Kim’s ‘bitter sorrow’ as North Korea bus crash kills 32 Chinese

Above, a section of the Pyongyang to Kaesong highway. A Chinese tour group was traveling by bus from Kaesong to Pyongyang when the accident happened. (AFP)
Updated 24 April 2018
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Kim’s ‘bitter sorrow’ as North Korea bus crash kills 32 Chinese

  • Beijing is Pyongyang’s sole major ally, providing an important economic and political buffer against international opprobrium
  • For some, North Korea provides a window into what Communist China may have looked like decades ago

BEIJING: North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has expressed his “bitter sorrow” after dozens of Chinese tourists were killed when a bus they were traveling in plunged off a bridge.
Thirty-two Chinese tourists and four North Koreans perished in the accident south of Pyongyang Sunday night, Chinese officials and state media said. Two other Chinese nationals were injured.
In a rare admission of negative news from North Korea’s tightly controlled propaganda network, the KCNA news agency on Tuesday said Kim met personally with the Chinese ambassador in Pyongyang and later visited survivors in hospital.
The Rodong Sinmun newspaper, the mouthpiece of the ruling party, carried a front-page on Kim’s actions, including pictures of him in a doctor’s white coat, holding the two survivors’ hands as they lay in their hospital beds.
Although such a move might be unsurprising in other countries, it is an unusual portrayal of Kim, who is usually shown presiding over formal meetings or visiting work or army units.
Kim “said that the unexpected accident brought bitter sorrow to his heart and that he couldn’t control his grief at the thought of the bereaved families who lost their blood relatives,” KCNA reported.
The North Korean leader said his people “take the tragic accident as their own misfortune,” it added.
The fulsomeness of Kim’s comments reflects the importance of China — and its tourists — to his country and economy.
Beijing is Pyongyang’s sole major ally, providing an important economic and political buffer against international opprobrium.
Their relationship was forged in the blood of the Korean War, and while it has soured more recently, with China increasingly exasperated by the North’s nuclear antics and enforcing UN Security Council sanctions against it, there has been an improvement in recent weeks.
Last month, Kim embarked on his first overseas trip since inheriting power in 2011 to finally pay his respects to Chinese President Xi Jinping and was warmly welcomed in Beijing.
China is by far the biggest source of tourists for the North, with direct flights and a long land border connecting the neighbor, and tens of thousands are believed to visit every year, many crossing via train through the Chinese border city of Dandong.
For some, North Korea provides a window into what Communist China may have looked like decades ago.
In contrast Western visitors to the North once averaged around 5,000 a year, but numbers have been hit recently by a US travel ban — Americans accounted for around 20 percent of the market — and official warnings from other countries.
Xinhua news agency reported that the bus had fallen from a bridge in North Hwanghae province.
China’s state broadcaster showed images of a large overturned vehicle, with light rain falling on rescue vehicles at night and doctors attending to a patient.
KCNA said the crash was “an unexpected traffic accident that claimed heavy casualties among Chinese tourists.” It gave no breakdown on the numbers killed or injured.
The Chinese foreign ministry said Tuesday a group of officials and five medical experts had arrived in Pyongyang to assist the North in treating the injured and dealing with the aftermath.
They also visited a temporary morgue for the dead to check their identities and express condolences, it said.
North Hwanghae province lies south of Pyongyang and stretches to the border with South Korea. It includes the city of Kaesong, an ancient Korean capital with historical sites and, until recently, a manufacturing complex operated with the South.
The tour group was traveling by bus from Kaesong to Pyongyang when the accident happened, according to the independent Seoul-based website NK News, which cited an unnamed source.
North Korean roads are largely poor and potholed, and in many areas, they are dirt rather than tarmac. Vehicles are sometimes forced to ford rivers or take detours when bridges are unpassable.
But the route from Pyongyang to Kaesong is one of the best in the country.
It runs north-south from the Chinese border to the Demilitarized Zone on the border with South Korea but has little traffic, like all North Korean highways.
Tank traps have been installed along the road in many locations — sets of high concrete columns on either side of the road that can easily be blown up to create an obstruction for invading armored vehicles.


Germany to discuss lifting ban on deporting Syrians

Updated 50 min 16 sec ago
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Germany to discuss lifting ban on deporting Syrians

  • Interior minister expected to discuss issue in meeting at end of November
  • Anti-immigrant parties have been demanding changes in deportation policy

DUBAI: In a sign that Germany's conservative political parties may tighten immigration rules, the government has said it is considering whether to allow the deportation of some Syrian asylum seekers back to their home country.

The interior ministry said on Friday it is examining whether Syrian refugees who commit crimes or support terror organizations should be deported back to Syria, according to a Wall Street Journal report.

Such deportations are currently banned.

Germany is currently governed by a coalition of three parties - the conservative CDU/CSU and the SPD.

Horst Seehofer, Germany's interior minister, and his counterparts in Germany's 16 states are set to discuss how to deal with refugees who commit crimes at a meeting at the end of November, the Wall Street Journal report said.

Among the issues to be addressed will be whether to end or extend the deportation ban for Syrians after it expires at the end of December.

"If the security situation permits, it should be possible to deport (to Syria) criminals or people who pose a terror-related risk," Roland Woller, interior minister of Saxony state, told a group of regional dailies on Friday.

Woller's statement came after a similar argument by Joachim Herrmann, his counterpart in Bavaria, in an interview this week, according to the Wall Street Journal.

Merkel, 64, announced late last month she will relinquish chairmanship of the conservative CDU next month, and will not run again for the country's top post in 2021, or any political office.

Merkel, who has led the CDU for 18 years and Germany for 13, said her decision was aimed at giving her party the opportunity "to get ready for the time after me".

Far-right politicians began demanding changes in the deportation policy since Merkel's announcement.

Most Syrians in Germany are treated as war refugees rather than victims of persecution, meaning that they get a renewable one-year visa and are not entitled to bring family members to Germany.

However, Syrians who choose to return home face daunting prospects: large expanses of the country have been reduced to rubble and the economy is a shambles.

Those considering gone home are also discouraged by reports of returnees being targeted by militias loyal to President Bashar al-Assad.

Since Germany allowed in 2015 hundreds of thousands of migrants to enter the country, most Syrians who have sought asylum in the country have been granted protection.

While Afghans, Iraqis and other refugees who commit serious crimes or become identified as terror suspects can be deported, Syrians who have not been granted asylum remain exempt, according to the Wall Street Journal report.

According to an explainer in the German news website DW, because non-Germans must have some kind of residency permit to be allowed to stay in Germany, refugees and asylum seekers are issued with temporary permits while their applications are being considered.

If they have had their asylum applications turned down, they no longer have the right to stay in Germany, and are obligated to leave the country by a set deadline (no longer than six months).

If that deadline has passed, they may be forcibly deported to their country of origin, the DW report says.

People whose residency permits have expired, or have not had it extended by authorities, are also subject to deportation. The same is true of non-Germans who have been convicted of a crime.

But there are different rules depending on the severity of the crime. anyone sentenced to at least three years in prison must be deported, but in the case of people who have been sentenced to less severe crimes, or are simply deemed a threat to public order and safety, the decision on whether to deport or not is up to the authority in question.