Summit raises hope North Korea will release 3 US detainees

People watch a TV screen showing North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and US President Donald Trump, left, at the Seoul Railway Station in Seoul, South Korea, Friday, March 9, 2018. After months of trading insults and threats of nuclear annihilation, Trump agreed to meet with North Korean leader Kim Jung Un by the end of May to negotiate an end to Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons program, South Korean and US officials said Thursday. (AP/Ahn Young-joon)
Updated 13 March 2018
0

Summit raises hope North Korea will release 3 US detainees

TOKYO: Hopes for the release of three American citizens imprisoned in North Korea got a big boost by the news of a possible summit between President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.
Freeing the prisoners would be relatively low-hanging fruit and a sign of goodwill by Kim. It would also mark something of a personal success for Trump, who has highlighted the issue since last June, when University of Virginia student Otto Warmbier died days after North Korea turned him over to American authorities.
Trump banned Americans from traveling to the North in response and featured Warmbier’s father prominently in his State of the Union speech in January.
A look at who the current American prisoners are and what a prison sentence in North Korea can entail:

The prisoners
All three Americans now doing time in the North are men, and all three are ethnic Koreans.
Two of them — Tony Kim and Kim Hak Song — were instructors at the Pyongyang University of Science and Technology prior to their arrest and conviction. They are accused of anti-state activities and trying to overthrow the government. The university, which has not been linked to their arrests, is the only privately funded college in the North, founded in 2010 on donations from Christian groups.
Tony Kim, who taught accounting, has been in custody since April last year and is serving a 15-year sentence. Kim Hak Song, an agriculture specialist and evangelical minister who resided with his wife in China, was taken into custody about a month later. He remains in custody, but it’s not clear whether he has been sentenced or what his current status is.
The third and longest-serving prisoner, Kim Dong Chul, is a former Virginia resident who reportedly claims to have been the president of a trade and hotel services company in Rason, a special economic zone on the North Korean border with Russia. He was sentenced in April 2016 to 10 years in prison with hard labor after being convicted of espionage.

How they are tried
Suspects are often arrested when they try to leave North Korea. Warmbier, who was charged with anti-state crimes and the attempted theft of a propaganda banner, and Tony Kim were taken into custody at Pyongyang’s international airport, Kim Hak Song while on a train on his way home to China.
Before being put on trial, detainees are often held in a house-arrest-type situation at their hotel, and some say they were expected to pay the hotel bill for the extra days. They may also be moved to guesthouses or places where they are less likely to be seen by others while the investigation is underway.
Suspects are pushed hard to sign a confession, which many recant after they leave the country, and guilt is generally assumed by the time the case reaches a judge, or a panel of three judges. With little doubt about the outcome, rarely do the proceedings take more than one day — or even a few hours — to complete.
Foreigners charged with serious crimes such as espionage generally have their cases sent directly to the Supreme Court.

Life in prison
Americans aren’t thrown into the same prison system as North Koreans.
Kenneth Bae, a missionary from Washington state who spent two years in prison, said he was kept for the most part in a foreigners-only work camp. It’s possible it was, in fact, meant only for him — he never saw another prisoner there.
In an interview in Pyongyang, the capital, just before his 2016 release, Bae told The Associated Press that he was moved from the work camp to a hospital because of failing health and weight loss. He said he was then sent back to the work camp, which he believed was located not far outside Pyongyang.
He said he did a lot of digging and farm-related labor.
Bae, who was also accused of trying to overthrow the government, said after his release that his cell was small and barren and he was frequently interrogated early on. But he said he was never beaten and was allowed to keep his Bible and pray openly.


How they are freed
The United States and North Korea do not have diplomatic relations. The Swedish Embassy in Pyongyang acts as a go-between when an American is detained.
North Korea claims that releasing American prisoners before they have completed their sentences is a “humanitarian” decision that must be made by Kim Jong Un himself. So, without any US diplomats or legal advocates on the ground, getting a release often requires a trip by a senior US statesman.
Former President Bill Clinton went to North Korea in 2009 to get two journalists, Euna Lee and Laura Ling, who had crossed into the country illegally from China and were given 12-year sentences. Former CIA director James Clapper visited in November 2014 to bring home Bae and tourist Matthew Miller, who was charged with espionage.
Former President Jimmy Carter — who since leaving office has traveled to North Korea three times and even met with Kim Il Sung, Kim Jong Un’s grandfather — brought home Christian missionary Aijalon Gomes in 2010. Gomes had been sentenced to eight years of hard labor for illegal entry and hostile acts against the government.
Joseph Yun, the top US negotiator with North Korea at the time, was the official who went to get Warmbier.


Macron’s ratings fall further after month of protests

Updated 38 min 17 sec ago
0

Macron’s ratings fall further after month of protests

  • Many of the protesters have targeted Macron personally, calling on him to resign
  • Until last week, a clear majority of French people had backed the protests, which sprung up initially over high taxes

PARIS: A month of “yellow vest” protests have taken a further toll on the popularity of French President Emmanuel Macron, a new poll showed Sunday, with analysts saying he will be forced to change his style of governing.
Around 66,000 protesters turned out again on Saturday on the fifth round of anti-government demonstrations, which sprung up over diesel taxes last month.
The figure was about half the number of the previous weekend, suggesting momentum was waning and the most acute political crisis of Macron’s 19-month presidency was coming to an end.
“It is calming down, but what remains of it all is a strong feeling of hatred toward Macron,” said veteran sociologist Herve Le Bras from the School of Advanced Studies in the Social Sciences (EHESS).
A major poll by the Ifop group published in Journal du Dimanche newspaper showed Macron’s approval had slipped another two points in the last month, to 23 percent.
The proportion of people who declared themselves “very dissatisfied” by his leadership jumped by six points to 45 percent.
Many of the protesters have targeted Macron personally, calling on him to resign or targeting his background as an investment banker and alleged elitism.
A different poll by Ipsos on Wednesday last week showed that a mere 20 percent of respondents were happy with his presidency, a fall of six points to its lowest ever level.
Le Bras said the protests had underlined the depth of dislike for Macron’s personality and style of governing, which critics see as arrogant and too distant.
“Even by being more humble, it’s going to be complicated,” he added.

Until last week, a clear majority of French people had backed the protests, which sprung up initially over high taxes before snowballing into a wider opposition front against Macron.
In a bid to end the standoff, he announced a package of measures for low-income workers on Monday in a televised address, estimated by economists to cost up to 15 billion euros ($17 billion).
The 40-year-old also acknowledged widespread animosity toward him and came close to apologizing for a series of verbal gaffes seen as dismissive of the poor or jobless.
Two polls published last Tuesday — in the wake of Macron’s concessions — suggested the country was now broadly 50-50 on whether the protests should continue.
“It’s a movement that has succeeded in forcing back what looked like a strong government,” Jerome Sainte-Marie, a public opinion expert at the Pollingvox group, told AFP.
“People have confidence in themselves now, so things won’t return to how they were on November 15” before the protests started, he said.
“The context in which Emmanuel Macron holds power has changed,” he added.
The former investment banker had until now styled himself as a determined pro-business reformer who would not yield to pressure from protests like his predecessors.
“Macron has given an indication that he is more open to dialogue,” Jean-Daniel Levy from the Harris Interactiv polling group told AFP.
The government has announced a six-month consultation with civil society groups, mayors, businesses and the “yellow vests” to discuss tax and other economic reforms.
Hikes in petrol and diesel taxes, as well as tougher emissions controls on old vehicles — justified on the grounds of environmental protection — were what sparked the “yellow vest” movement.
Macron “won’t necessarily change the overall course of his reforms, rather the way he carries them out,” Levy added.

In Paris on Saturday, the more than 8,000 police on duty easily outnumbered the 2,200 protesters counted by local authorities.
There were 168 arrests by early evening, far fewer than the 1,000 or so of last Saturday.
Tear gas was occasionally fired, but only a fraction compared with the weekends of December 8 or December 1 when graffiti was daubed on the Arc de Triomphe in scenes that shocked France.
Richard Ferrand, the head of the National Assembly, welcomed the “necessary” weakening of “yellow vest” rallies on Saturday, adding that “there had been a massive response to their demands.”
Interior Minister Christophe Castaner also called on protesters to halt their blockades across the country which have seen traffic and businesses disrupted.
“Everyone’s safety has to become the rule again,” he said in a tweet.
“Dialogue now needs to unite all those who want to transform France.”
He said eight people had died since the start of the movement.
Around 69,000 security forces were mobilized across France on Saturday, down from 89,000 the weekend before when 2,000 people were detained.