Suspicious packages found at embassies

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Four "suspicious packages" were sent to diplomatic addresses in London yesterday, Scotland Yard said last night.

Police were called in after at least one of the packages, which were sent to separate foreign consulates in the capital, including the Saudi Arabian embassy, were found to contain white powder.

Initial examination of the contents suggested they were "non-hazardous" a police spokesman said, although further tests were being carried out. None of the packages was addressed to British government buildings. A Saudi press agency reported that the Saudi Arabian embassy had received a "closed envelope containing white powder". In a statement, the embassy said: "The embassy contacted the British authorities who dealt with the matter on the spot. The embassy has taken all the precautionary measures for the protection and safety of its employees."

The package is understood to have been addressed to the embassy rather than a named individual. The Metropolitan Police's diplomatic protection unit was called when the powder was discovered. Saudi diplomatic sources told the BBC that the powder had been tested on the premises and found to be harmless.

A Scotland Yard spokesman said: "We can confirm that four suspicious packages were sent to diplomatic premises in London today and they are currently being examined.

"Initial tests suggest that the contents are non-hazardous but fuller tests are yet to be completed. We will not be identifying the embassies." The spokesman refused to say what the packages contained and would not say where or when they were discovered.

In March 2002, a letter addressed to the Prime Minister's wife, Cherie Blair, containing sodium hydroxide disguised as aromatherapy oil was intercepted at Downing Street. A 17-year-old was sentenced to three years in prison.

Five people died in the US in October 2001 after inhaling anthrax bacteria sent through the post to media and political organisations.