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Russia expels diplomats from 23 countries

IANS Indo Asian News Service

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MOSCOW — Russia has expelled diplomats from 23 more countries on Friday in retaliation against the West as spy crisis escalates, in the biggest wave of tit-for-tat expulsions in recent memory.

The Russian foreign ministry said it had summoned the heads of missions from 23 countries — most of them European Union member states — to tell them that some of their diplomats had to leave.

The diplomats from France, Canada, Germany, Australia and other countries were earlier seen arriving at the Russian foreign ministry in flagged official cars.

France, Germany, Canada and Poland each said that Russia was expelling four of their diplomats. Among the other countries that had similarly been told to pull their envoys were the Netherlands, Sweden, the Czech Republic, Finland, Lithuania and Norway.

Thirteen Ukrainian diplomats should also leave Russia.

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The moves came in retaliation for the coordinated expulsion of Russian diplomats by Britain and its allies over a nerve agent attack against former double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia in the English city of Salisbury on March 4.

“This is certainly not a surprise,” Dutch Foreign Minister Stef Blok said through a spokeswoman, referring to Moscow’s expulsion of two of the country’s diplomats.

Blok called upon Russia to cooperate with the ongoing investigation into the attack by the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons.

The Russian foreign ministry also gave Britain a month to cut the number of diplomatic staff in Russia to the same number Russia has in Britain.

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China conduct live fire drill along southeast coastline

Thompson Reuters

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BEIJING — China’s military has conducted live-fire drills along the southeast coastline, state television reported, but it was unclear if these were the same exercises that had been flagged as taking place in the sensitive Taiwan Strait.

The government had said the drills would happen on Wednesday off the city of Quanzhou, in between two groups of islands close to China’s coast but that Taiwan has controlled since 1949 when defeated Nationalist forces fled to the island at the end of the Chinese civil war.

Chinese state media has said the drills were a direct response to “provocations” by Taiwan leaders related to what China fears are moves to push for the self-ruled island’s formal independence. China claims Taiwan as its sacred territory.

Late on Wednesday, Chinese state television showed footage of helicopters firing missiles during an exercise it said was happening on China’s southeast coast.

State television only showed pictures of helicopters, with no mention of ships or other military equipment such as tanks or amphibious assault vehicles.

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The exercises took place from 8 a.m. (0000GMT) until midnight, the report said, giving the same time frame for the previously announced drills in the Taiwan Strait.

The Defence Ministry did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the exercise, and whether it was the same ones previously reported to be happening in the Taiwan Strait.

Taiwan on Wednesday denounced the exercises, saying Beijing was using “cheap verbal intimidation and saber rattling” to threaten the island.

Taiwan is one of China’s most sensitive issues and a potential military flashpoint. China has ramped up military exercises around Taiwan in the past year, including flying bombers around the island.

Taiwan’s Defence Ministry said on Wednesday afternoon two Chinese H-6K bombers had flown around the island, passing first through the Miyako Strait to Taiwan’s northeast and then back to base via the Bashi Channel between Taiwan and the Philippines.

The latest Chinese military movements come during a time of heightened tension between Beijing and the island and follows strong warnings by Chinese President Xi Jinping against Taiwan separatism last month.

China claims Taiwan as its own and considers it a breakaway province.

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