Chinese envoy wraps up North Korea trip after meetings with senior officials

Song Tao, center, the head of China’s ruling Communist Party’s International Liaison Department, arrives at Beijing Capital International Airport in Beijing, Friday on his way to Pyongyang to meet North Korean officials. (AP)
Updated 20 November 2017
0

Chinese envoy wraps up North Korea trip after meetings with senior officials

BEIJING: A high-level Chinese envoy wrapped up a four-day trip to North Korea on Monday after meeting with top officials and discussing the tense state of affairs on the Korean Peninsula and other issues.
Song Tao, the most senior Chinese official to visit Pyongyang, North Korea’s capital, in two years, was officially tasked with briefing the government on China’s recent party congress. China’s official Xinhua News Agency said the ruling parties of both countries agreed to strengthen exchanges and “push forward relations.”
Song and North Korean officials discussed “the Korean Peninsula issue and other issues of common concern,” Xinhua said.
Neither side had commented on the tone of the visit as Song wrapped up his official itinerary on Monday. China’s foreign ministry, asked to comment on the visit, repeated a standard line about Song’s official itinerary and added nothing further.
Song’s trip was watched closely because it came on the heels of US President Donald Trump’s Asian tour, in which he urged greater efforts by China and others to push North Korea to abandon its development of nuclear weapons.
Song, head of the Chinese Communist Party’s International Department, met with North Korean ruling party Vice Chairman Choe Ryong Hae and former Foreign Minister Ri Su Yong. He also paid his respects to North Korean “eternal president” Kim Il Sung and “eternal general-secretary” Kim Jong Il, leader Kim Jong Un’s dead grandfather and father.
The visit was seen by some North Korea watchers as an effort by Xi to explore a new approach in relations and a reflection of his desire to head off further pressure from Washington.
China’s relations with North Korea have deteriorated under Kim Jong Un, who has ignored Beijing’s calls to end North Korea’s nuclear weapons and ballistic missile tests and return to disarmament talks.
China has also been busy repairing ties with South Korea that have been strained by the deployment of a US missile defense system. South Korean Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha is to visit China from Tuesday through Thursday.
Trump has repeatedly suggested that China could easily solve the North Korea nuclear problem by tightening the screws on trade. While China is North Korea’s largest trading partner, Beijing says its influence with Kim’s government is often exaggerated by the US and others.
Beijing is also opposed to measures that could bring down Kim’s regime and lead to a refugee crisis along its border with North Korea.


Fury clouds funeral plans for Italy bridge victims

Updated 17 August 2018
0

Fury clouds funeral plans for Italy bridge victims

  • The collapse of the Morandi bridge, a decades-old viaduct that crumbled in a storm on Tuesday killing at least 38 people, has stunned and angered the country
  • According to La Stampa newspaper, the families of 17 victims have refused to take part in the state funeral, while a further seven have yet to decide whether they will attend

GENOA: Grieving relatives wept over the coffins of dozens of victims of Genoa’s bridge disaster Friday amid growing fury over a planned state funeral, while rescuers pressed on with their tireless search for those missing in the rubble.
The collapse of the Morandi bridge, a decades-old viaduct that crumbled in a storm on Tuesday killing at least 38 people, has stunned and angered the country, with Italian media reporting that some outraged families would shun Saturday’s official ceremonies.
Italy’s government has blamed the operator of the viaduct for the tragedy and threatened to strip the firm of its contracts, while the country’s creaking infrastructure has come under fresh scrutiny.
Authorities plan a state funeral service on Saturday at a hall in Genoa, coinciding with a day of mourning.
Relatives who gathered at the hall on Friday embraced and prayed over lines of coffins, many adorned with flowers and photographs of the dead.
But according to La Stampa newspaper, the families of 17 victims have refused to take part, while a further seven have yet to decide whether they will attend.
“It is the state who has provoked this; let them not show their faces, the parade of politicians is shameful,” the press cited the mother of one of four young Italians from Naples who died.
The father of another of the dead from Naples took to social media to vent his anger.
“My son will not become a number in the catalogue of deaths caused by Italian failures,” said his grieving father, Roberto.
“We do not want a farce of a funeral but a ceremony at home.”
Despite fading hopes of finding survivors, rescue workers said they had not given up as they resumed the dangerous operation to search through the unstable mountains of debris.
“Is there anyone there? Is there anyone there?” one firefighter shouted into a cavity dug out of the piles of concrete and twisted metal, in a video published by the emergency services.
Between 10 and 20 people are still missing, according to Genoa’s chief prosecutor.
Ten people remain in hospital, six of them in a serious condition.
Hundreds of rescuers are using cranes and bulldozers to cut up and remove the biggest slabs of the fallen bridge, which slammed down onto railway tracks along with dozens of vehicles.
“We are trying to find pockets in the rubble where people could be — alive or not,” fire official Emanuele Gissi told AFP.
Officials say about 1,000 people in all are working on the disaster site, 350 of them firefighters.
The populist government has accused infrastructure giant Autostrade per L’Italia of failing to invest in sufficient maintenance and said it would seek to revoke its lucrative contracts.
Interior Minister Matteo Salvini demanded that the company offer up to 500 million euros ($570 million) to help families and local government deal with the aftermath of the disaster.
The dead also include children, one as young as eight, and three Chileans and four French nationals.
The French nationals, all in their 20s, had traveled to Italy for a music festival, and other victims included a family setting off on holiday and a couple returning from their California honeymoon.
More than 600 people were evacuated from around a dozen apartments beneath the remaining shard of bridge.
On Thursday evening the first residents of some buildings in the affected area were allowed to return home, though others are too badly damaged to save.
The Morandi viaduct dates from the 1960s and has been riddled with structural problems for decades, leading to expensive maintenance and severe criticism from engineering experts.
Its collapse prompted fears over aging infrastructure across the world.
Italy has announced a year-long state of emergency in the region.
Autostrade, which operates and maintains nearly half of Italy’s motorways, estimates it will take five months to rebuild the bridge.
It denies scrimping on motorway maintenance, saying it has invested over one billion euros a year in “safety, maintenance and strengthening of the network” since 2012.
Atlantia, the holding company of Autostrade which is 30 percent owned by iconic fashion brand Benetton, has warned that the government would have to refund the value of the contract, which runs until at least 2038.
Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte said Autostrade “had the duty and obligation to assure the maintenance of this viaduct and the security of all those who traveled on it.”
The disaster is the latest in a string of bridge collapses in Italy, where infrastructure generally is showing the effects of a faltering economy.
Senior government figures have also lashed out at austerity measures imposed by the European Union, saying they restrict investment.
But the European Commission said it had given Rome billions of euros to fix infrastructure.