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News Briefing

The Week So Far with Yvonne Ridley – Is Britain’s reputation at risk?

is the UK is not the safe haven it used to be

Can Britain be regarded as safe territory any more with suspicious parcels sent to MPs and Russian nerve toxins dispatched in leafy Wiltshire?

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Britain’s safe reputation at risk

As regular readers to my column TWSF know I’ve spent the past few days in Turkey onboard the Conscience Convoy with 10,000 women from 55 different countries heading towards the Syrian border.

On returning home my 91-year-old mum expressed relief I was back in ‘good old Blighty, safe and sound!’ But the truth is the UK is not the safe haven it used to be. At the time of writing this four British Muslim MPs have received suspicious parcels and an ex-Russian spy and his daughter have been poisoned with some military grade, Russian-made nerve compound in leafy Wiltshire.

Former double agent Sergei Skripal, 66, and his daughter, Yulia, 33, were both found slumped on a bench in Salisbury city centre in Wiltshire on March 4. While they remain in a critical but stable condition in hospital Detective Sergeant Nick Bailey, who also became sick while attending to the pair, remains seriously ill.

On top of that 500 local people who may have come in to contact with the dangerous substance have been told to wash their clothes as an emergency precaution. This is the stuff of dystopian nightmares and not little Britain!

Prime Minister Teresa May told the Commons on Monday that the poison used in the attack was a military-grade nerve agent developed by Russia, saying: “Either this was a direct action by the Russian state against our country, or the Russian government lost control of its potentially catastrophically damaging nerve agent and allowed it to get into the hands of others.”

The Foreign Office has summoned Russia’s ambassador to “explain which of these two possibilities it is” but Russia has made it clear it will not co-operate with the UK’s investigation until it has been given a sample of the substance used, its foreign minister has said.

Sergei Lavrov has “rubbished” May’s claims of Russian involvement and so now we Brits find ourselves in a stand off situation looking for outside support from friends and allies. US President Donald trump has been silent for days although by Tuesday he did say he’d be contacting the PM adding: “It sounds to me they believe it was Russia base on all the evidence they have”.

Answering a separate question by reporters, he added: “As soon as we get the facts straight, if we agree with them, we will condemn Russia or whoever it may be”.

Meanwhile if Moscow fails to respond by midnight tonight, the UK will consider that Russia has been involved in the “unlawful use of force.” And now, Home Secretary Amber Rudd has announced that MI5 and police are investigating claims that as many as 14 deaths on UK soil may be linked to Russia.

Which prompts me to ask: What the hell is going on in our green and pleasant land?


Afrin is a red line crossed for Turkish President

The Turkish Army has now completely surrounded the Kurdish-held city of Afrin in northern Syria after capturing strategically important districts leading in to the besieged town.

Kurdish sources say all roads into the city are now being targeted by Turkish shellfire so it looks as though the offensive is coming to a conclusion. Turkey launched the offensive on January 20 saying it would flush out the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) militia which it has designated a terrorist organisation.

The Turkish government says the YPG is an extension of the banned Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which has fought for Kurdish autonomy in south-eastern Turkey for three decades. President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has been warning NATO and the US military for months he will take action over the massing YPG militia on his border. If they thought he was bluffing they now have their answer.

While I was passing through Ankara last week I was invited to a meeting officiated by Erdoğan in which he made clear his views of the YPG. He criticised the US for arming the militia saying, through a translator, that he had warned the Trump Administration that terrorists can’t be used to fight terrorists, in reference to YPG attacks on Daesh.

He also pledged once the offensive is complete, Turkey will rebuild Afrin and its schools and hospitals so the fleeing residents can return to their homes. Now it seems Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu has reached a deal with the Trump Administration for the YPG to withdraw from Manbij 60 miles east of Afrin.

It seems President Erdoğan has red lines and he’s warned the international community for months he would not sit by and allow Kurdish militia to have a growing – and threatening – presence on Turkish borders. perhaps in future they will take him at his word.


Gaza’s whodunnit?

Like them or not, the Palestinian group Hamas is never shy about its actions, military or political so when they deny being behind the explosion in the Gaza Strip which targeted the convoy of the Palestinian Prime Minister, Rami Hamdallah, I tend to believe them.

Hamdallah was unharmed although there are reports of some injuries as a result. Meanwhile President Mahmoud Abbas, an unpopular man at the best of times, was quick to condemn the “cowardly targeting” holding Hamas responsible.

Hamas reckons the strike was an attempt to damage Gaza’s security and “deal a blow to efforts to finalise reconciliation” between the main Palestinian factions. To find the culprit look at those who would benefit from such a crime … sadly there are a lot of suspects out there, too many to list here.

Palestinians in Gaza have never been forgiven by Abbas’s corrupt regime and Fatah faction after Hamas won parliamentary elections in the occupied territories in 2006 and reinforced its power in Gaza after ousting Fatah from Gaza. A reconciliation deal was signed in October that would see Hamas hand over administrative control of Gaza to the Palestinian Authority but disputes have delayed that.

Eye witnesses say an explosive package was thrown at the last car in the convoy within minutes of it entering Gaza via Israel’s Erez Crossing by someone on a passing motorbike. Having visited Gaza twice and seen Hamas security in operation firsthand, I imagine all stops are being pulled to track down the perpetrator.


Demonised Mary gets her good name back

She’s been demonised by generations of Christians over the centuries but now it seems the image of Mary Magdalene is about to be restored thanks to a new film on her life.

No longer the fallen woman or prostitute redeemed by Jesus, it seems she should be regarded as an apostle in her won right which could cause problems for Rooney Mara and Garth Davis, the star and director of the film Mary Magdalene.

The original claim she was a prostitute was made back in 591 by Pope Gregory I, who declared her to be a penitent but fallen woman. The false myth ran for centuries and was certainly not helped by the Andrew Lloyd Webber rock musical Jesus Christ Superstar.

The truth is there’s not a single biblical reference that Mary Magdalene – not to be confused with the Virgin Mary – was a sinner. Only the New Testament books of Mark and Luke make references to demons being cast out of her body.

While the Roman Catholic Church  vindicated Mary in 1969 it wasn’t until Pope Francis formally hailed her as the “apostle of the apostles” in 2016 that anyone began to take notice.


Stating the Obvious

European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker has warned that the British people will come to “regret” leaving the EU as he noted Brexit was due to happen on March 29 next year, as he made an address to MEPs in Strasbourg. I’d be far more impressed with his insightful predictions if he forecast next week’s winning lottery numbers instead of stating the bleedin’ obvious!


Farewell Ken

Tributes continue to pour in for multi-talented entertainer and comedian Ken Dodd. He will be a great miss and many of us will look back with affection at the smiles and laughter he created with his tickling stick, diddymen and slapstick humour.


Farewell Jim Bowen

Bowen died two days after his hero, Ken Dodd.  The former deputy headmaster, who lived in North Lancashire, began his career as a stand-up comedian on the club circuit in the 1960s.

He became a household name when he began presenting Bullseye in 1981. The Sunday tea time show ran for 14 years.


RIP You Genius

Scientists, politicians and actors have paid tribute to world renowned physicist Stephen Hawking, who has been called an “inspiration to millions”.

The British scientist, famed for his work on black holes, died peacefully at his home in Cambridge aged 76.

Astronomer Royal Lord Rees, one of the world’s most eminent scientists, described his life as a “triumph”.

Others described him as a “unique individual” whose death “has left an intellectual vacuum in his wake”.


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