No missiles but ballet as North Korea’s Kim puts on a show

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North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, his wife Ri Sol Ju, and Song Tao, head of the International Department of Communist Party of China Central Committee, applaud with ballet dancers in Pyongyang. (KCNA via Reuters)
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North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, his wife Ri Sol Ju, and Song Tao, head of the International Department of Communist Party of China Central Committee, watch a ballet performance in Pyongyang. (KCNA via Reuters)
Updated 17 April 2018
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No missiles but ballet as North Korea’s Kim puts on a show

SEOUL: Kim Jong Un hobnobbed with a visiting Chinese ballet troupe as he capped a weekend of celebrations in the North Korean capital that conspicuously lacked a show of military might that marked many previous festivals.
The festivities surrounded the April 15 “The Day of the Sun,” the anniversary of the birth of the founder of North Korea and the Kim dynasty, Kim Il Sung, in 1912.
On last year’s Day of the Sun, Kim put on a military parade bristling with his latest ballistic missiles, exacerbating international tension over his nuclear weapon and missile programs.
Past festivals also featured various cultural and economic displays, but the absence of military overtones this year was more in line with a message of reconciliation that Kim has sought to cultivate in recent months as he made his first visit to neighboring China and announced plans to talk with the leaders of South Korea and the United States.
Photos released by state media, as well as by tour companies that brought foreign tourists in for the holiday and a Spring Friendship Art Festival, showed no weapons but instead a weekend of performances, fireworks, dancing and sports.
In pictures released by state media from a ballet performance late on Monday, Kim and his wife, Ri Sol Ju, were seen applauding, posing with dancers, and laughing with the head of the Chinese Communist Party’s international liaison department, Song Tao.
Song led a Chinese troupe to North Korea for the festival.
Kim, in a meeting with Song on Sunday, said he was personally meeting the visiting performers out of respect for Chinese President Xi Jinping and said he wanted to launch a “fresh phase of development” of relations between their countries.
North Korea’s ties with China, its sole major ally, had become strained over the past couple of years over the North’s contentious missile and nuclear tests, which China disapproves of.
But in late March, Kim made a visit to Beijing, his first known journey abroad since he took power in 2011.
The visit came amid a flurry of diplomatic efforts by the North, starting a New Year speech in which Kim opened the door to participating in February’s Winter Olympics in South Korea.
On April 27, Kim is scheduled to make history when he meets South Korean President Moon Jae-in at a summit just inside South Korean territory on the fortified border that divides the two countries. He will be the first North Korean leader to step on South Korean soil.
US President Donald Trump has said he plans to meet Kim in May or early June.
American officials are still skeptical of Kim’s sudden overtures, with Trump’s pick for secretary of state, CIA Director Mike Pompeo, telling lawmakers last week that North Korea should not expect rewards from talks with the United States until it takes irreversible steps to give up its nuclear weapons.


4 dead in Waffle House shooting in southern US state; suspect sought

Updated 23 April 2018
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4 dead in Waffle House shooting in southern US state; suspect sought

NASHVILLE, US: A nearly naked gunman wearing only a green jacket and brandishing an assault rifle stormed a Waffle House restaurant in Nashville early Sunday, shooting four people to death before a customer rushed him and wrestled the weapon away.
Authorities were searching for the 29-year-old suspect, Travis Reinking, who they said drove to the busy restaurant and killed two people in the parking lot before entering and continuing to fire. When his AR-15 rifle either jammed or the clip was empty, the customer disarmed him in a scuffle.
Four people were also wounded before the gunman fled, throwing off his jacket.
Nashville Police Chief Steve Anderson said there was no clear motive, though Reinking may have “mental issues.” He may still be armed, Anderson told a mid-afternoon news conference, because he was known to have owned a handgun that authorities have not recovered.
US Secret Service agents arrested Reinking last July for being in a restricted area near the White House, officials said. Special Agent Todd Hudson said Reinking was detained after refusing to leave the restricted area, saying he wanted to meet President Donald Trump.
State police in Illinois, where Reinking lived until last fall, subsequently revoked his state firearms card at the request of the FBI and four guns were then taken from him, including the AR-15 used in Sunday’s shooting as well as a handgun, authorities said.
Sheriff Robert Huston in Tazewell County, Illinois, said deputies allowed Reinking’s father to take possession of the guns on the promise that he would “keep the weapons secure and out of the possession of Travis.” Huston added that, based on past deputies’ encounters with Reinking, “there’s certainly evidence that there’s some sort of mental health issues involved.”
While Huston said it was unclear how Reinking reclaimed the guns, Nashville Police spokesman Don Aaron said that his father “has now acknowledged giving them back to his son.”
Phone calls to a number listed for the father, Jeffrey Reinking, went unanswered.
Meanwhile, authorities hailed the customer who intervened to stop a further bloodbath, 29-year-old James Shaw, Jr., as a hero — though the father of a 4-year-old girl demurred and said he was just trying to survive.
One hand bandaged, Shaw told reporters he first thought the gunshots fired around 3:25 a.m. were plates falling from a dishwashing station.
When he realized what was happening, he took cover behind a door as shots shattered windows. The gun either jammed or needed a new clip, and that’s when Shaw said he pounced after making up his mind that “he was going to have to work to kill me.”
Shaw said he was not a religious man, but “for a tenth of a second, something was with me to run through that door and get the gun from him.”
They cursed at each other as they scuffled, Shaw said, and he was able to grab the gun and toss it over a counter. The gunman then ran away into the dark of the working- and middle-class Antioch neighborhood of southeast Nashville.
Authorities said he shed his jacket nearby and police found two AR-15 magazines loaded with bullets in the pockets. He was seen walking, naked, on a road, officials said, but later was spotted wearing pants but no shirt after apparently returning to his apartment.
Another witness, Chuck Cordero, told The Tennessean newspaper he had stopped to get a cup of coffee and was outside the Waffle House when the chaos unfolded.
“He did not say anything,” Cordero said of the gunman, who he described as “all business.”
Cordero said Shaw saved lives. “There was plenty more people in that restaurant,” he said.
The dead were identified as 29-year-old restaurant worker Taurean C. Sanderlin, and restaurant patrons Joe R. Perez, 20, Akilah Dasilva, 23, and Deebony Groves, 21. A police statement said Sanderlin and Perez were killed outside the restaurant, Groves was fatally shot inside, and Dasilva was critically wounded inside and later died at Vanderbilt University Medical Center.
Aaron, the police spokesman, said two of the wounded were being treated for gunshot wounds at the medical center, where spokeswoman Jennifer Wetzel said one was in critical condition and the other was in critical but stable condition.
TriStar Southern Hills Medical Center spokeswoman Katie Radel in Nashville said two people were treated for minor injuries and released.
Aaron said Reinking had been employed in construction and lived near the restaurant, and police used yellow crime scene tape to block public access to an apartment complex about a half-mile from the Waffle House. Reinking is originally from Morton, Illinois.
“This is a very sad day for the Waffle House family,” the company said in a statement on Twitter. “We ask for everyone to keep the victims and their families in their thoughts and prayers.”
Nashville Mayor David Briley described the shooting as “a tragic day” for the city.
“My heart goes out to the families & friends of every person who was killed or wounded,” Briley said in an emailed statement. “I know all of their lives will be forever changed by this devastating crime.”
US Rep. Jim Cooper, whose district includes Nashville, said in an emailed statement that the shooting shows the need for tighter restrictions on “widespread civilian access to military-grade assault weapons.”
Nashville Chief Anderson said there was no Tennessee law that would have barred Reinking from having guns, though weapons could be taken away if the suspect had serious mental health issues. That would require taking him to court and having his rights taken away because of illness, a sometimes lengthy and difficult process, Anderson said.
Police reports filed in Illinois showed past run-ins with authorities there.
In May 2016, Tazewell County deputies were called to a CVS parking lot where Reinking told officers that Taylor Swift was stalking him and hacking his phone, and that his family was also involved, according to a report released Sunday. Reinking agreed to go to a local hospital for an evaluation after repeatedly resisting the request, the report said.
Another report from the sheriff’s office said Reinking barged into a community pool in Tremont, Illinois, last June and jumped into the water wearing a pink woman’s coat over his underwear. Investigators believed he had an AR-15 rifle in his car trunk, but it was never displayed. No charges were filed.