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Czech govt expels 18 Russian diplomats over 2014 blast

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Czech govt expels 18 Russian diplomats over 2014 blast

Hamacek, who is the interior minister and also an interim foreign minister after his predecessor was sacked earlier this week, said he was sorry the incident would "fundamentally damage Czech-Russian relations".

Separately, Czech police said on Saturday they were searching for two men carrying various passports, including Russian ones in the names of Alexander Petrov and Ruslan Boshirov.

"There is well-grounded suspicion about the involvement of officers of the Russian intelligence service GRU, unit 29155, in the explosion of ammunitions depot in the Vrbetice area", Babis told a briefing shown live on television.

While Russia routinely shrugs off espionage allegations as part of an "anti-Russian campaign" orchestrated by the U.S. or Britain, analysts say that covert Russian activities in Europe have hit a new post-Cold War peak.

The Czech Republic is expelling 18 Russian diplomats over suspicions that Russian intelligence services were involved in an ammunition depot explosion in 2014, Prime Minister Andrej Babis and Foreign Minister Jan Hamaceksaid on Saturday.

According to Czech media, the employees of the Russian Embassy in Prague were given 48 hours to leave the country.

Several explosions shook the Vrbetice ammunition depot, 330km (205 miles) southeast of the capital, Prague, on October 16, 2014.

Czech police are looking for suspects using the identities Alexander Petrov and Ruslan Boshirov in connection with the explosion.

However, UK authorities said they were members of the GRU and had smeared a nerve agent, Novichok, on a door handle belonging to Mr Skripal, a former GRU officer.

A local woman, Dawn Sturgress, died months later after being poisoned by nerve agent in a discarded perfume bottle. "We're in a similar situation to Britain in the attempted poisoning case in Salisbury", added Hamacek.

Russian Federation responded by saying that its constitution does not allow its citizens to be extradited.

Police officers in the Czech Republic seek two Russian nationals who used passports registered to Alexander Petrov and Ruslan Boshirov.

Warsaw also expressed solidarity with the United States, which earlier that day had announced sanctions and the expulsion of 10 Russian diplomats in retaliation for what Washington said was the Kremlin's United States election interference, a massive cyber attack and other hostile activity. Moscow followed by saying 10 USA diplomats would also have to leave.

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