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Novichok nerve agent identified in more UK poisonings

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The pair, a man and woman in their 40s, are in critical condition after coming into contact with the substance just miles from the site of the March 4 attack on Mr Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia in Salisbury.

[LONDON] Two Britons taken sick in southern England on Saturday were exposed to the same nerve agent, that poisoned a former Russian spy four months ago, UK police said.

The pair, a man and woman in their 40s, are in critical condition after coming into contact with the substance just miles from the site of the March 4 attack on Mr Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia in Salisbury.

"We can confirm that the man and woman have been exposed to the nerve agent Novichok, which has been identified as the same nerve agent that contaminated" the Skripals, Neil Basu, the Metropolitan Police's counter-terrorism coordinator, said late Wednesday in a televised news conference. "The priority for the investigation team now is to establish how these two people have come into contact with this nerve agent."

Prime Minister Theresa May's office had no plans to respond on Wednesday night. The government will hold an emergency meeting Thursday. The investigation is ongoing.

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Spotlight On Russia

The incident puts the spotlight back on Russian President Vladimir Putin, who has denied British accusations that Russia was behind the Salisbury attack. The circumstances remain unclear, and one theory being shuffled by UK authorities is that the victims stumbled across the substance and weren't its intended targets.

The timing however is sensitive: Nato leaders meet next week to discuss threats including Russian aggression, while Mr Putin and US President Donald Trump are due to hold a summit on July 16 that already has UK ministers worried about what the US president will promise his Russian counterpart.

British scientists identified the substance in the Salisbury attack as the Russian nerve agent Novichok. Mrs May expelled 23 Russian diplomats in retaliation, and rallied allies including the US to expel more than 100 more.

"We are not in a position to say whether the nerve agent was from the same batch that the Skripals were exposed to," Mr Basu said. "The possibility that these two investigations might be linked is clearly a line of enquiry for us."

In the latest incident, the two people were taken to hospital after being found unconscious at a house in Amesbury, about 8 miles (13 kilometers) from Salisbury. Authorities at first believed they had become sick after taking heroin or crack cocaine from a contaminated batch. They conducted further tests to establish the nature of the substance, and brought in counter-terrorism police to help in their investigation.

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