North Korea begins dismantling rocket test site — analysts

Satellite image courtesy Airbus Defense and Space and 38 North obtained on July 23 shows the apparent dismantling of facilities at the Sohae satellite launching station in North Korea. (Pléiades © Cnes 2018, Distribution Airbus DS /AFP)
Updated 24 July 2018
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North Korea begins dismantling rocket test site — analysts

SEOUL: North Korea has started dismantling some facilities at its main satellite launch station, seen as the testing ground for its intercontinental ballistic missiles, according to expert analysis of recent satellite images.
If confirmed, the analysis by respected US-based website 38 North could signal a step forward after last month’s landmark summit between Kim Jong Un and US President Donald Trump, although some experts questioned the significance of the gesture.
After the summit, Trump had declared the North Korean nuclear threat was effectively over, and US media reports suggest he is privately furious at the lack of any subsequent progress on the denuclearization issue.
His public statements, however, remain upbeat and the 38 North analysis came as the president pronounced himself “very happy” with the way talks were progressing with Pyongyang.
The website said imagery indicated the North had begun taking down a processing building and a rocket-engine test stand that had been used to test liquid-fuel engines at its Sohae Satellite Launching Station.
Sohae, on the northwest coast of North Korea, is ostensibly a facility designed for putting satellites into orbit, but rocket engines are easily repurposed for use in missiles and the international community has labelled Pyongyang’s space program a fig leaf for weapons tests.
38 North analyst Joseph Bermudez called the move an “important first step” for Kim in fulfilling a promise that Trump said the North Korean leader made during their June summit in Singapore.
Since Sohae is “believed to have played an important role in the development of technologies for the North’s intercontinental ballistic missile program, these efforts represent a significant confidence-building measure on the part of North Korea,” Bermudez said.
Trump said in Singapore that Kim had committed to destroying a “major” missile engine test site, without specifying the site.
Sohae has been the North’s primary rocket launch site since 2012, and some experts cautioned against reading too much into the work described in the 38 North analysis.
Melissa Hanham, senior research associate with the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies in Monterey, said that while dismantling the engine test site was a “good move,” it amounted to “the bare minimum” that could be done at Sohae.
“Unless they dismantle the whole site, it will remain North Korea’s premier location for space launches,” Hanham said on Twitter.
“North Korea does not need the Sohae engine test stand anymore if it is confident in the engine design. As (Kim Jong Un) said himself, North Korea is moving from testing to mass production,” she said, adding that observers should look for signs of new sites where more missiles could be built.
“We ignored North Korea too long, and now it’s about managing how many nuclear weapons and delivery systems they have, not IF they have them,” she said.
A US defense official also downplayed the news, saying the Sohae site was not a priority in terms of monitoring the North’s denuclearization efforts.
“It’s not on the radar, so to speak,” the official said.
In a sign of Washington’ impatience with what it sees as North Korean heel-dragging on the denuclearization issue, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was in New York last week urging UN member-states to keep tough economic sanctions in place to pressure Kim into moving forward.
China and Russia have argued that North Korea should be rewarded with the prospect of eased sanctions for opening up dialogue with the US and halting missile tests.


PM Modi files nomination papers in India’s general election

Updated 26 April 2019
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PM Modi files nomination papers in India’s general election

  • Voting in three of the seven phases of the staggered elections has finished
  • In total, some 900 million people are registered to vote for candidates to fill 543 seats in India’s lower house of Parliament

VARANASI, India: Prime Minister Narendra Modi filed nomination papers Friday in a Hindu holy city, hoping to hold onto the seat for a second time in India’s general elections.
He prayed at a temple before arriving at the election office in Varanasi in Uttar Pradesh state, flanked by Amit Shah, president of his Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janta Party, and several state chief ministers. As his car passed, people shouted slogans such as “Har Har, Modi!” or “Hail, Modi!“
Thousands of BJP activists, some carrying party flags and sporting saffron caps, waived at Modi who responded with a smile. People also showered rose petals on him. Many were perched on the road dividers and many more watched the show from windows and roofs of homes on both sides of the roads.
Voting in three of the seven phases of the staggered elections has finished. In total, some 900 million people are registered to vote for candidates to fill 543 seats in India’s lower house of Parliament. Voting concludes on May 19 and counting is scheduled for May 23.
With around 1.7 million voters, Varanasi will go the polls on May 19. The election is seen as a referendum on Modi and his party. The campaigning has been marred by accusations, insults and unprecedented use of social media to spread false information.
Varanasi is one of the holiest cities for Hindus in India and is based at the banks of the Ganges River, or Ganga. Hindus believe Varanasi is the center of the world and anyone who dies in the city attains salvation.
Invoking Hindu symbolism, Modi told party workers before filing his nomination papers: “Mother Ganga will take care of me.”
“Last time when I contested nobody told me to come here, nobody sent me to Varanasi. Mother Ganga has invited me,” he said.
Modi supporters say the tea seller’s son from Gujarat state has improved the nation’s standing. But critics say his party’s Hindu nationalism has aggravated religious tensions in India.
In his five years as prime minister, Modi has pushed to promote this secular nation of 1.3 billion people and nine major religions as a distinctly Hindu state. He has rallied his support base with Hindu mega projects across India, including in Varanasi, but has also been blamed for rising attacks by Hindu mobs against minorities, mainly Muslims who number about 170 million.
Modi and his party also have adopted aggressive nationalism, using the disputed Himalayan region of Kashmir to pivot away from his economic record and playing up the threat of rival Pakistan. The approach was employed especially after a suicide bombing in Kashmir on Feb. 14 killed 40 soldiers, causing brief fighting with Pakistan and allowing Modi to portray himself as a strong, uncompromising leader on national security.