Wednesday briefing: Alarm as Russia seeks to run Interpol

Top story: Candidate for presidency ‘targeted Kremlin critics’

Hello – Warren Murray with the news to get you to morning tea and beyond.

After China locked up the head of Interpol, there is alarm that his replacement might be a Kremlin agent. Alexander Prokopchuk is accused of trying to use the agency to target dissidents and critics of Vladimir Putin’s government. The Interpol general assembly is due to vote on the presidency today in Dubai.

“There is probably no more inappropriate person than this person, and there’s no more inappropriate country to have any kind of leadership position at Interpol than Russia,” said Bill Browder, a British-American financier who says he was politically target by Russia and Prokopchuk via Interpol.

British officials have made it clear that they don’t want Prokopchuk and are backing South Korean Kim Jong Yang for the presidency. “This is really quite an extraordinary situation,” said Tom Tugendhat, the Conservative MP and foreign affairs committee chair, “to find ourselves with the possibility of not just a fox in charge of the hen coop, but actually the assassin in charge of the murder investigation.”

Interpol’s previous chief, China’s Meng Hongwei, was arrested during a visit home in September as part of a corruption investigation.

‘Barbaric act defying civilised norms’ – Donald Trump has launched an extraordinary defence of Saudi Arabia – repeating the kingdom’s description of murdered journalist Jamal Khashoggi as an “enemy of the state” while claiming, in the face of reported CIA assessments, that there is “nothing definitive” linking Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman to the killing. Blaming the crown prince might make oil prices go up, warned Trump, who also repeated his exaggerations of the scale of US arms deals with the Saudis. But Lindsey Graham – normally a fervent Trump fan – predicted “strong bipartisan support for serious sanctions against Saudi Arabia, including appropriate members of the royal family, for this barbaric act which defied all civilised norms”, and called the crown prince “beyond toxic”. Nicholas Burns, an under-secretary of state in the George Bush administration, called Trump’s statement “beyond embarrassing. It is shameful. He is silent on our most important interest – justice.”

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Midweek catch-up – Room for a few small ones?

> Theresa May heads to Brussels buoyed by the failure of Brexiteer attempts to remove her. Preparations continue for Sunday’s summit where the Brexit deal is due to be agreed between Britain and the EU27. May will still have to get it through parliament against the objections of dozens of Tories and the DUP.

> Renault has declined to remove Carlos Ghosn as chairman and CEO after his arrest by Japanese prosecutors. Its partners Mitsubishi and Nissan have both moved to fire Ghosn as chairman. Renault says it wants to see the evidence against him.

> Donald Trump has sought to defend daughter Ivanka’s use of a private email account for government business. Democrats are pushing for an investigation: “There’s no way that she had no knowledge of the rules,” said Senator Richard Blumenthal.

> Bringing in electronic identity cards stating a migrant’s right to live in the UK, work, claim benefits and use public services could persuade voters in a second referendum that there is no need for Brexit , a study by the Global Future thinktank has found.

> Michelle Obama’s memoir Becoming sold roughly nine copies a second on its first day on bookstands in the US, while in the UK it quickly hit number two in the hit book charts.

Populism in the spotlight – Supporters say it champions the ordinary person and is a vital force in any democracy. Critics say populism in power subverts democratic norms, whether by undermining the media and judiciary or trampling minority rights. Populist parties have more than tripled their support in Europe in the last 20 years, putting their leaders into government in 11 countries and challenging the established political order. Their progress, particularly with voters on the right, is revealed in a groundbreaking analysis of elections in 31 European countries over two decades, conducted by the Guardian in conjunction with more than 30 leading political scientists. Two decades ago, populist parties were largely a marginal force, accounting for just 7% of votes across the continent. In the most recent national elections, one in four votes cast was for a populist party, and the likes of Hungary’s Viktor Orbán and Italy’s Matteo Salvini have risen to power. The findings come six months before European parliamentary elections that some are predicting could return more rightwing populists than ever to the 751-seat chamber.

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Antidepressants and the young – Children aged 10 and under are among hundreds of young people being given strong antidepressants that can increase the risk of suicide. Government guidance cautions against the use of paroxetine and venlafaxine in young people but they are still being prescribed as a last resort. Andrea Cipriani, an Oxford psychiatrist, carried out a study that found no antidepressant apart from Prozac, the recommended drug, was any better than a placebo in treating children and teenagers. But Dr Louise Theodosiou, a member of the child and adolescent psychiatry faculty at the Royal College of Psychiatrists, says allergies or other problems might necessitate the use of alternatives. “It’s really important that people are not frightened of the prospect of medication. What we wouldn’t want is a situation where people thought these medications were inherently dangerous.”

Coco’s revenge – Kellogg’s has won a battle to use Coco Pops’ mascot monkey to advertise chocolate-flavoured granola. The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) had banned the TV ad campaign for breaking rules against advertising junk food to children. But Kellogg’s argued it was allowable to use a character normally associated with a sugary product to advertise a healthy one. The ASA reversed its ban after an independent review. Caroline Cerny of the Obesity Health Alliance condemned the reversal: “This is just another example of why we need strong government action to protect children from unhealthy food marketing, starting with a 9pm watershed on junk food adverts on TV.” But Kellogg’s said the ban, if left in place, would have been “a disincentive for food companies like us to develop and launch ‘better for you’ alternatives at a time when people are looking to our industry to take action.”

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Today in Focus podcast: Plane crash that changed Poland

In 2010 a plane crash in Russia killed Poland’s president and plunged the country’s prime ministership into crisis. Agata Popeda and Daniel Boffey discuss how this incident still affects Donald Tusk’s political career today. Plus: film-maker Mike Leigh on the 1819 Peterloo massacre.

Donald Tusk, former Polish PM and president of the European council.

Donald Tusk, former Polish PM and president of the European council. Photograph: Wojciech Strozyk/Rex/Shutterstock

Lunchtime read: Ten everyday ways drivers make cyclists feel unsafe

Ten things drivers do that make cyclists feel unsafe – video

“If cyclists are expected to share the roads with a tonne or so of speeding metal,” writes Peter Walker, “global experience shows, you won’t get more than a certain, small percentage of the population doing it, predominantly the young and gung ho.” But in the UK, cycling is both less safe than it could be, and also significantly more safe than most people believe.

The problem is it feels unsafe – frightening incidents, even if they did not actually cause harm, are a routine experience for UK riders. Our writer explains: “I decided to try and create some sort taxonomy of these behaviours by borrowing a cycle camera, riding my usual route to and from work in London, and recording what happened.”


The Football Association will seek to cut the number of foreign players permitted in Premier League squads, even if the United Kingdom does not leave the European Union. Eddie Jones has lobbed a tantalising curveball in Australia’s direction by retaining Manu Tuilagi in his 26-man squad for this Saturday’s Test at Twickenham, barely 24 hours after the head coach described the centre as “very doubtful”. Amid continuing doubts over David Pocock’s fitness, the Wallabies’ preparations have been further disrupted after it emerged a sickness bug has swept through the camp.

James Forrest hit a snappy hat-trick in a 3-2 win over Israel that sealed Scotland’s progression from Nations League Group C – and gave Alex McLeish a last laugh over his many detractors. Meanwhile, Wales suffered an embarrassing 1-0 defeat to Albania as Ryan Giggs’s first year in charge ended on a low note. And the sprinter Nigel Levine, who was an integral part of Great Britain’s 4x400m relay squad for nearly a decade, has been banned for four years after testing positive for clenbuterol.


The US-China trade war could accelerate the downturn in the global economy, economists have warned, as stock markets continued to battle against an increasingly bearish outlook. Shares in Asia were in the red this morning following heavy losses on Wall Street where the leading technology companies have seen $1tn wiped from stock values this year. Falling oil prices have also contributed to investor gloom.

The FTSE 100 is set to open slightly up this morning, while the pound is buying $1.279 and €1.124.

The papers

Most newspapers are taking a break from Brexit on their front pages. The Guardian leads on its new investigation into the rise of populism – “Revealed: One in four Europeans vote populist”. The Times has “‘KGB man’ set to be next head of Interpol” while the FT reports: “Ghosn arrest came amid plans for merger opposed by Nissan board”.

Guardian front page, Wednesday 21 November 2018

The i has “Smokers less likely to develop Parkinsons” – but before you light up they warn that the “disastrous” harm from tobacco “vastly outweighs any benefit from nicotine”. The Mirror has a plea for a heart transplant for a 13-month-old: “Please find me a heart”. The Mail reports on an “Epidemic of child gamblers” and the Sun says “Top cop had his Phil” as a former police chief has been given a £85,000 payout after quitting during a bullying probe. The Express (“I won’t let UK be trapped in customs union”) and the Telegraph (“Scotland will be free to rejoin EU says Spain”) keep Brexit on the agenda.

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