N. Korea slams US-South Korea military exercises

South Korean protesters hold a banner reading "Stop! UFG (Ulchi-Freedom Guardian joint military exercise)" as they march toward the US Embassy during an anti-US rally demanding peace in the Korean Peninsula in Seoul Tuesday. (AFP)
Updated 20 August 2017
0

N. Korea slams US-South Korea military exercises

SEOUL: North Korea warned Sunday that the US will be “pouring gasoline on fire” by conducting an annual war game in the South next week amid heightened tensions between Pyongyang and Washington.
Combative rhetoric between the nations spiked after Pyongyang tested two intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBM) last month that appeared to bring much of the US within range, sparking an intense warning by President Donald Trump that Washington could rain “fire and fury” on the North.
Pyongyang then threatened to fire a salvo of missiles toward the US territory of Guam — a plan that leader Kim Jong-un last week delayed, but warned could go ahead depending on Washington’s next move.
Amid the fiery volley of threats, Seoul and Washington will begin Monday the “Ulchi Freedom Guardian” (UFG) joint military exercises involving tens of thousands of troops that Pyongyang views as a highly provocative rehearsal for invasion.
“The joint exercise is the most explicit expression of hostility against us, and no one can guarantee that the exercise won’t evolve into actual fighting,” said an editorial carried by the North’s official Rodong Sinmun newspaper.
“The Ulchi Freedom Guardian joint military exercises will be like pouring gasoline on fire and worsen the state of the peninsula,” the paper said.
Warning of an “uncontrollable phase of a nuclear war” on the peninsula, it added: “If the United States is lost in a fantasy that war on the peninsula is at somebody else’s doorstep far away from them across the Pacific, it is far more mistaken than ever.”
Seoul and Washington have said the largely computer-simulated UFG exercise, which dates back to 1976, will go ahead as planned, but did not comment on whether the drills would be scaled back in an effort to ease tensions.
Around 17,500 US troops will participate in this year’s drills — a cutback from last year — according to numbers provided by Seoul’s defense ministry.
But South Korea’s Yonhap news agency reported the allies were mulling scrapping an initial plan to bring in two aircraft carriers to the peninsula to take part in the drill.
South Korea’s top military officer said Sunday that the current security situation on the peninsula was “more serious than at any other time” amid the North’s growing nuclear and missile threats, and warned Pyongyang of merciless retaliation against any attack.
“If the enemy provokes, (our military) will retaliate resolutely and strongly to make it regret bitterly,” said Gen. Jeong Kyeong-Doo, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, in his inauguration speech.


Japan’s ruling coalition secures upper house majority

Updated 56 min 13 sec ago
0

Japan’s ruling coalition secures upper house majority

  • “I believe the people chose political stability, urging us to pursue our policies and carry out diplomacy to protect Japan’s national interests,” Abe said

TOKYO: Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s ruling coalition secured a majority in Japan’s upper house of parliament in elections Sunday but will not reach the super-majority needed to propose constitutional revisions, according to vote counts by public television and other media.
NHK public television said shortly after midnight that Abe’s Liberal Democratic Party and its junior partner Komeito had won 69 seats in the upper house, with nine seats remaining. If Abe gained support from members of another conservative party and independents, it would make only 76 seats, short of 85 he would have needed, NHK said.
Abe’s ruling bloc already has a two-thirds majority in the lower house, but without such control of the upper chamber, he has a slim chance of achieving his long-cherished goal of constitutional reform.
Nonetheless, Abe welcomed the results, saying winning a majority indicates a public mandate for his government.
“I believe the people chose political stability, urging us to pursue our policies and carry out diplomacy to protect Japan’s national interests,” Abe said in an interview with NHK.
Abe hopes to gain enough seats to boost his chances to revise Japan’s pacifist constitution — his long-cherished goal before his term ends in 2021.
But it’s a challenge because voters are more concerned about their jobs, economy and social security. Abe, who wants to bolster Japan’s defense capability, is now proposing adding the Self-Defense Force, or Japan’s military, to the war-renouncing Article 9 of the constitution. He said he is not considering running for another term.
Abe said resolving the decades-old issue of Japanese citizens abducted by North Korea and signing a peace treaty with Russia would be his diplomatic priorities during the rest of his term.
Opposition parties have focused on concerns over household finances, such as the impact from an upcoming 10% sales tax increase and strains on the public pension system amid Japan’s aging population.
Abe has led his Liberal Democratic Party to five consecutive parliamentary election victories since 2012.
He has prioritized revitalizing Japan’s economy and has steadily bolstered the country’s defenses in the backdrop of North Korea’s missile and nuclear threats and China’s growing military presence. He also has showcased his diplomatic skills by cultivating warm ties with President Donald Trump.
Abe needs approval by a two-thirds majority in both houses to propose a constitutional revision and seek a national referendum. His ruling bloc has a two-thirds majority in the more powerful lower house.
The main opposition Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan and three other liberal-leaning parties teamed up in some districts. They stressed support for gender equality and LGBT issues — areas Abe’s ultra-conservative lawmakers are reluctant to back.
At a polling station in Tokyo’s Chuo district on Sunday, voters were divided over Abe’s 6 1/2-year rule.
A voter who identified himself only as a company worker in his 40s said he chose a candidate and a party that have demonstrated an ability to get things done, suggesting he voted for Abe’s ruling party and its candidate, as “there is no point in casting my vote for a party or a politician who has no such abilities.”
Another voter, Katsunori Takeuchi, a 57-year-old fish market worker, said it was time to change the dominance of Abe and his ultra-conservative policies.
“I think the ruling party has been dominating politics for far too long and it is causing damage,” he said.