Pyongyang readies missile launch ahead of US-South Korea drill: report

North Korea has conducted its sixth and most powerful nuclear test last month in defiance of international sanctions. Above, Kim Jong-Un during one of Pyongyang’s missile launches. (AFP)
Updated 14 October 2017
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Pyongyang readies missile launch ahead of US-South Korea drill: report

SEOUL: North Korea is believed to be preparing to launch a ballistic missile ahead of an upcoming joint naval drill by the US and South Korea, a news report said Saturday, citing a government source.
The US navy said Friday that a US aircraft carrier will lead the drill in the coming week, a fresh show of force against North Korea as tensions soar over the hermit state’s weapons program.
The move will likely rile Pyongyang which has previously responded angrily to joint exercises.
The Donga Ilbo daily, quoting a government source, said satellite pictures show ballistic missiles mounted on launchers being transported out of hangars near Pyongyang and in the North Phyongan Province.
US and South Korean military officials suspect the North might be preparing to launch missiles capable of reaching US territory, the newspaper said.
This could be the Hwasong-14 inter-continental ballistic missile (ICBM), whose range could extend to Alaska, or Hwasong-12 intermediate-range missiles which Pyongyang threatened to fire toward the US Pacific territory of Guam in August, the report said.
Another possibility is that the North might be preparing to test a new Hwasong-13 ICBM, it added, that has a longer maximum range than the other two missiles and could potentially reach the US West Coast.
A defense ministry spokesman declined to comment on the report, saying: “We don’t comment on any matters of military intelligence.”
“We are keeping a close watch over the North,” he added.
The joint drills led by the USS Ronald Reagan aircraft carrier come after hectic US military hardware movements around the Korean peninsula in recent days.
These follow a flurry of missiles from Pyongyang, which conducted its sixth and most powerful nuclear test last month in defiance of international sanctions.
On Friday the nuclear-powered USS Michigan submarine arrived at the southern South Korean port of Busan, just days after another nuclear-powered submarine — the USS Tuscon — left after a five day visit.
Earlier this week the US flew two supersonic heavy bombers over the Korean peninsula, staging the first night-time joint aviation exercises with Japan and South Korea.
That mission came 17 days after four US F-35B stealth fighter jets and two B-1Bs flew over the peninsula.
Professor Yang Moo-Jin of the University of North Korean Studies said it was “highly likely” that the North could launch missiles in response to next week’s joint navy drill.
US President Donald Trump’s continued threats of military action against Pyongyang if it does not tame its weapons ambitions have fueled fears of conflict on the Korean peninsula.
But military intervention against North Korea would have “devastating consequences,” NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg warned Friday, after Trump said diplomatic efforts had failed.


Japan’s ruling coalition secures upper house majority

Updated 16 min 5 sec ago
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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.