US, S. Korea to ‘strengthen’ defenses against N. Korea

Updated 31 January 2017
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US, S. Korea to ‘strengthen’ defenses against N. Korea

WASHINGTON: US President Donald Trump and South Korea’s acting President Hwang Kyo-Ahn vowed Sunday to “strengthen” their joint defense capabilities against the belligerent North, the White House said.
“President Trump reiterated our ironclad commitment to defend the ROK, including through the provision of extended deterrence, using the full range of military capabilities,” the White House said in a statement, using an acronym for the South’s formal name.
“The two leaders agreed to take steps to strengthen joint defense capabilities to defend against the North Korean threat.”
Pentagon chief James Mattis is due to travel to South Korea on Wednesday and Japan on Friday on his first trip as defense secretary.
The trip comes amid worries in the two long-standing American allies about the direction of US policy in their region under Trump.
During his campaign, Trump threatened to withdraw US forces from the two countries if they did not step up their financial support for their defense.
But the White House insisted that the trip “reflects the close friendship between our two countries and demonstrates the importance of the US-ROK alliance.”
Seoul and Washington agreed last year to install the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system in the South after a string of North Korean nuclear and missile tests — prompting strong objections from China, which fears it will undermine its own ballistic capabilities.
Earlier this month, Hwang warned that North Korea’s nuclear and missile capabilities are accelerating at an “unprecedented” pace, as he called for the “swift” deployment of the anti-missile system.
Within South Korea, voices opposing the THAAD installation have grown louder, with some opposition candidates pledging to scrap the agreement if they win a presidential election due this year.
The plan has also angered Beijing, which has imposed a string of measures seen in the South as economic retaliation, including effectively barring K-pop stars from performing on the mainland and not authorizing South Korean airlines to operate charter flights between the countries.


Indonesia jails former parliament speaker for 15 years over graft

Updated 31 min 5 sec ago
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Indonesia jails former parliament speaker for 15 years over graft

JAKARTA: An Indonesian court on Tuesday sentenced the former speaker of parliament, Setya Novanto, to 15 years in jail for his role in causing state losses of around $170 million, linked to a national electronic identity card scheme.
The case has shocked Indonesians, already used to large corruption scandals and has reinforced a widely held perception that their parliament, long regarded as riddled with corruption, is a failing institution.
“The defendant is found guilty of conspiring to commit corruption and is sentenced to 15 years in prison and fined 500 million rupiah,” Yanto, the head of a panel of five judges, told the Jakarta court. The fine is equivalent to $36,000.
Novanto would be barred from holding public office for five years after serving his sentence and have to repay $7.3 million he was accused of plundering, added the judge, who goes by one name.
In a session that ran for more than three hours, judges read out dozens of case notes, including descriptions of where the former speaker held meetings to divvy up cash made from a mark-up on a contract for the identity card.
Novanto showed little emotion as the judge read the verdict.
After a quick consultation with his legal team, he told the court he would take some time to consider whether to appeal the sentence.
Novanto is accused of orchestrating a scheme to steal $173 million, or almost 40 percent of the entire budget for a government contract for the national identity card.
Prosecutors, who had questioned 80 witnesses in the case, had sought a jail term of at least 16 years for the former speaker.
Novanto, who had been implicated in five graft scandals since the 1990s but never convicted, was detained by investigators last November after repeatedly missing summonses for questioning over the case, saying he needed heart surgery.
Indonesians have to contend with high levels of graft in many areas of their lives and the country placed 96th among 180 countries in Transparency International’s annual corruption perceptions index last year, on par with Colombia and Thailand.