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The british government has expelled 23 russian diplomats and their families after moscow refused to explain how a nerve agent was used against former russian spy sergei skripal, 66, and his 33-year-old daughter, yulia, in salisbury on sunday 4 march.

Yulia skripal is now said to be conscious and talking in salisbury district hospital, while her father remains in a criticial but stable condition.

Prime minister theresa may said the chemical used in the attack had been identified as being part of a group of nerve agents developed by russia known as novichok.

Police believe the car may have been in the areas of london road, churchill way north and wilton road at about 09:15 GMT. At about 13:30 GMT it was seen being driven down devizes road towards the centre of town.Nerve agent

A vehicle that is believed to have been used by mr skripal’s friend to pick up yulia from the airport on 3 march was removed from durrington, wiltshire, by the army on 19 march.

Officers have identified about 500 witnesses and taken "hundreds of statements". They are looking at more than 1,350 pieces of evidence and 5,000 hours of CCTV.

Novichok’s existence was revealed by chemist dr vil mirzayanov in the 1990s, via russian media. He says the nerve agents were designed to escape detection by international inspectors.

Professor gary stephens, a pharmacology expert at the university of reading says novichok is "a more dangerous and sophisticated agent than sarin or VX and is harder to identify".

Some of the agents are also said to be "binary weapons", meaning the nerve agent is typically stored as two less toxic chemical ingredients that are easier to handle.Nerve agent

When these are mixed, they react to produce the active toxic agent which can cause convulsions, shortness of breath, profuse sweating and nausea. How has the government responded?

The UK expelled 23 diplomats after prime minister theresa may said russia was "culpable" for the poisoning of sergei skripal and his daughter.

He also said the UK government had evidence russia had been stockpiling the nerve agent used in the attack over the last 10 years and had investigated ways of delivering such weapons for assassination.

After russia announced sanctions of its own, mrs may said the government would consider its next steps "in the coming days, alongside our allies and partners".

US president donald trump has ordered 60 russian diplomats to leave the country while the US state department has accused russia of an "outrageous violation of the chemical weapons convention".Nerve agent

In response to the US’s actions, russia has announced the expulsion of 60 US diplomats and the closure of the US consulate general in st petersburg.

Germany, france and poland are among 14 EU countries to have also expelled russian diplomats. The ukraine has announced 13 will be expelled while albania, norway and macedonia have also ordered diplomats to leave.

The UN security council held an emergency meeting at the UK’s request, where british deputy ambassador jonathan allen said russia had used "a weapon so horrific that it is banned in war". What has russia said?

Kremlin spokesman dmitry peskov said russia was not worried by international expressions of support for the UK and challenged britain to "provide some confirmation".

He said: "sooner or later, the british will have to show some proof to those ‘colleagues’ who say they are with UK on this; sooner or later will have to stand up its accusations."

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The russian foreign ministry has called mrs may’s allegations "insane" and the russian embassy in britain has described the order for diplomats to leave as "unacceptable, unjustified and short-sighted".

The russian ministry of defence described UK defence secretary gavin williamson as a "vulgar old harpy" after he said russia should "go away and shut up".

Russian foreign minister sergei lavrov said the UK was "playing politics" and not taking into account an international pact on chemical weapons.

He said if the UK sends moscow a formal request for an explanation under the chemical weapons convention, russia will respond within the set 10-day time limit.

Russian foreign ministry spokeswoman maria zakharova said the UK was one of the most likely sources of the nerve agent, along with the czech republic, slovakia, sweden or possibly the united states.Said russia

Russia’s EU ambassador, vladimir chizhov, also suggested a UK research laboratory in wiltshire could be the source of the nerve agent. Who are the victims?

Colonel skripal is a retired russian military intelligence officer who was convicted of passing the identities of russian intelligence agents working undercover in europe to the UK’s secret intelligence service, MI6.

In july 2010, he was one of four prisoners released by moscow in exchange for 10 russian spies arrested by the FBI. He was later flown to the UK.

According to BBC newsnight’s diplomatic editor mark urban, in recent years mr skripal gave lectures at military academies offering insights into russia’s foreign military intelligence agency, the GRU.