Small N. Korea quake likely natural, not nuclear test: Experts

A man watches a television news screen showing a map of the epicenter of an earthquake in North Korea, at a railway station in Seoul on Saturday. China's seismic service CENC on September 23 detected a zero-depth, 3.4-magnitude earthquake in North Korea, calling it a "suspected explosion". (AFP)
Updated 23 September 2017
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Small N. Korea quake likely natural, not nuclear test: Experts

NEW YORK/SEOUL: A small earthquake near North Korea’s nuclear test site on Saturday was probably not man-made, the nuclear proliferation watchdog and a South Korean official said, easing fears Pyongyang had exploded another nuclear bomb just weeks after its last one.
China’s Earthquake Administration said the quake was not a nuclear explosion and had the characteristics of a natural tremor. The administration had said earlier the magnitude 3.4 quake detected at 08:29 GMT was a “suspected explosion.”
The CTBTO, or Comprehensive Test-Ban Treaty Organization, which monitors nuclear tests, and officials of the South Korean meteorological agency said they believed it was a natural quake.
The Pentagon and the US State Department did not immediately respond to requests for comment
A US intelligence official and US-based non-governmental experts said their initial assessment was that the quake was either natural or connected to North Korea’s latest and largest nuclear test on Sept. 3, and not caused by a new nuclear test.
“It seems likely that these small tremors are related to the shifts in the ground due to the recent large test,” said David Wright of the Union of Concerned Scientists in the US.
The seismic activity came just hours before North Korea’s Foreign Minister Ri Yong-ho, who warned on Thursday that North Korea could consider a hydrogen bomb test of an unprecedented scale over the Pacific, was due to address the UN General Assembly in New York.
Ri did not respond when asked by reporters whether North Korea had conducted a new nuclear test.
A US government intelligence analyst said the events could have been a “mine-type” collapse of tunnels damaged by North Korea’s previous nuclear test, but was more likely a small earthquake.
An official of South Korea’s Meteorological Agency said acoustic waves should be detected in the event of a man-made earthquake.
“In this case we saw none. So as of now, we are categorizing this as a natural earthquake.”
The earthquake, which South Korea’s Meteorological Agency put at magnitude 3, was detected 49 km from Kilju in North Hamgyong Province, where North Korea’s known Punggye-ri nuclear site is located, the official said.
All of North Korea’s six nuclear tests registered as earthquakes of magnitude 4.3 or above. The last test registered as a 6.3 magnitude quake.
A secondary tremor detected after that test could have been caused by the collapse of a tunnel at the mountainous site, experts said at the time. Satellite photos of the area after the Sept. 3 quake showed numerous landslides apparently caused by the massive blast, which North Korea said was an advanced hydrogen bomb.
The head of the international nuclear test monitoring agency CTBTO said on Saturday that analysts were “looking at unusual seismic activity of a much smaller magnitude” than the Sept. 3 test in North Korea.
“Two #Seismic Events! 0829UTC & much smaller @ 0443UTC unlikely Man-made! Similar to “collapse” event 8.5 mins after DPRK6! Analysis ongoing,” CTBTO Executive Secretary Lassina Zerbo said in a Twitter post, referring to the Sept. 3 test.
Russia’s Emergency Ministry says background radiation in nearby Vladivostok was within the natural range.
The US Geological Survey (USGS) said it could not conclusively confirm whether the quake, which it measured at magnitude 3.5, was man-made or natural.
“The depth is poorly constrained and has been held to 5 km by the seismologist,” USGS said.
Jeffrey Lewis, head of the East Asia Nonproliferation Program at the Middlebury Institute of Strategic Studies at Monterey, California, said: “Seismologists are very good at discriminating between earthquakes and explosions. I see no reason to doubt that it was an earthquake.”
There was no immediate reaction from China’s Foreign Ministry, but the news was widely reported by Chinese state media outlets and on social media.
Tensions have continued to rise around the Korean Peninsula since Pyongyang carried out its sixth nuclear test, prompting a new round of UN sanctions.
US President Donald Trump called the North Korean leader a “madman” on Friday, a day after Kim dubbed him a “mentally deranged US dotard” who would face the “highest level of hard-line countermeasure in history.”
Kim was responding to a speech by Trump at the UN General Assembly in which Trump said the US would “totally destroy” North Korea if it threatened the US or its allies.
On Thursday, Trump announced new US sanctions that he said allows the targeting of companies and institutions that finance and facilitate trade with North Korea.
Earlier on Saturday, China said it will limit exports of refined petroleum products from Oct. 1 and ban exports of condensates and liquefied natural gas immediately to comply with the latest UN sanctions. It will also ban imports of textiles from North Korea.
North Korea’s nuclear tests to date have all been underground, and experts say an atmospheric test, which would be the first since one by China in 1980, would be proof of the success of its weapons program.
North Korea has launched dozens of missiles this year, several of them flying over Japan, as it accelerates a weapons program aimed at enabling it to target the United States with a nuclear-tipped missile.


India’s Modi stares at biggest election loss since coming to power

Updated 11 December 2018
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India’s Modi stares at biggest election loss since coming to power

  • Analysts say a big loss for Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party would signify rural dismay and help unite the opposition
  • Poll analysts cautioned that with the counting in preliminary stages, it was still too early to predict the outcome of state races involving millions of voters

NEW DELHI: India’s ruling party could lose power in three key states, four TV networks said on Tuesday, citing votecount leads, potentially handing Prime Minister Narendra Modi his biggest defeat since he took office in 2014, and months ahead of a general election.
The main opposition Congress party could form governments in the central states of Chhattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh, and in the western state of Rajasthan, all big heartland states that powered Modi to a landslide win in the 2014 general election.
Analysts say a big loss for Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party would signify rural dismay and help unite the opposition, despite his high personal popularity in the face of criticism that he did not deliver on promises of jobs for young people and better conditions for farmers.
“We’ve all voted for Congress this time and our candidate is winning here,” said Bishnu Prasad Jalodia, a wheat grower in Madhya Pradesh, where it appears as if Congress might have to woo smaller parties to keep out Modi’s party.
“BJP ignored us farmers, they ignored those of us at the bottom of the pyramid.”
The elections are also a test for Rahul Gandhi, president of the left-of-center Congress, who is trying to forge a broad alliance with regional groups and face Modi with his most serious challenge yet, in the election that must be held by May.
In Rajasthan, the Congress was leading in 114 of the 199 seats contested, against 81 for the BJP, in the initial round of voting, India Today TV said.
In Chhattisgarh, the Congress was ahead in 59 of the 90 seats at stake, with the BJP at 24. In Madhya Pradesh, the most important of the five states that held assembly elections over the past few weeks, Congress was ahead, with 112 of 230 seats. The Hindu nationalist BJP was at 103, the network said.
Three other TV channels also said Congress was leading in the three states, with regional parties leading in two smaller states that also voted, Telangana in the south and Mizoram in the northeast.
Poll analysts cautioned that with the counting in preliminary stages, it was still too early to predict the outcome of state races involving millions of voters.
Local issues usually dominate state polls, but politicians are seeing the elections as a pointer to the national vote just months away.
Indian markets recovered some ground after an early fall as the central bank governor’s unexpected resignation the previous day shocked investors.
The rupee currency dropped as much as 1.5 percent to 72.465 per dollar, while bond yields rose 12 basis points to 7.71 percent after the resignation of Reserve Bank of India Governor Urjit Patel.
The broader NSE share index was down 1.3 percent, with investors cautious ahead of the election results.
“As the three erstwhile BJP states have a large agrarian population, the BJP’s drubbing could be interpreted to mean that farm unrest is real,” Nomura said in a research note before the results.
“A rout of the BJP on its homeground states should encourage cohesion among the opposition parties to strengthen the non-BJP coalition for the general elections.”
Gandhi, the fourth generation scion of the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty, has sought to build a coalition of regional groups, some headed by experienced firebrand, ambitious politicians.
Congress has already said it would not name Gandhi, who is seen as lacking experience, as a prime ministerial candidate.
“When one and one become eleven, even the mighty can be dethroned,” opposition leader Akhilesh Yadav said of the prospect of growing opposition unity.