Seoul says Kim Jong Un wants Pope Francis to visit N. Korea

In this Sept. 26, 2018 file photo, Pope Francis arrives for his weekly general audience in St. Peter's Square at the Vatican. South Korea says North Korean leader Kim Jong Un wants Pope Francis to visit North Korea. (AP)
Updated 09 October 2018
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Seoul says Kim Jong Un wants Pope Francis to visit N. Korea

  • The Vatican insisted at the time that a papal visit would only be possible if Catholic priests were accepted in North Korea
  • The Vatican did not comment on the possibility of a papal visit

SEOUL: North Korean leader Kim Jong Un wants Pope Francis to visit the officially atheist country, South Korea said Tuesday.
South Korea’s presidential office said in a statement that Kim told President Moon Jae-in during their summit last month that the pope would be “enthusiastically” welcomed in North Korea.
Kim has been intensely engaged in diplomacy in recent months in what’s seen as an effort to leverage his nuclear weapons program for an easing of economic sanctions and military pressure.
North Korea strictly controls the religious activities of its people, and a similar invitation for then-Pope John Paul II to visit after a 2000 inter-Korean summit never resulted in a meeting. The Vatican insisted at the time that a papal visit would only be possible if Catholic priests were accepted in North Korea.
Moon plans to convey Kim’s desire for a papal visit when he travels to the Vatican next week. Moon said on Monday that he expects Kim to visit Russia soon and possibly hold a summit with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.
The Vatican did not comment on the possibility of a papal visit. But immediately after the news, the Vatican press office released a statement confirming that the pope would receive South Korea’s president in an audience at the Vatican on Oct. 18. 
Vatican spokesman Greg Burke said the audience will come a day after the Vatican secretary of state, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, celebrates a Mass for peace on the Korean Peninsula in St. Peter’s Basilica, where Moon will participate.  
Francis visited South Korea in August 2014. On the plane ride back to Rome, he expressed hope that the divisions would be overcome, saying “the two Koreas are brothers, they speak the same language.”  
“When you speak the same language it is because you have the same mother, and this gives us hope,” the pope said. “The suffering of the division is great, and I understand this and pray that it ends.”
North Korea’s reported overture comes a few weeks after the Vatican signed a landmark deal with Communist China, North Korea’s closest ally, over bishop nominations, aimed at ending decades of tensions that contributed to dividing the Chinese church and hampered efforts at improving relations between China and the Vatican. 
Paolo Affatato, the Asia editor for Fides Catholic news agency, said a visit by the pope to North Korea would “provide concrete support for the peace process” on the Korean Peninsula.
“North Korea can be seen in the framework of great attention that the pope and Holy See are paying to East Asia” with a clear awareness of the “political and diplomatic dividends that peace would bring on a global level,” he said.
Following an unusually provocative run of weapons tests last year, Kim has been on a diplomatic offensive since the start of this year.
He initiated offers for summits with Seoul and Washington, which led to three meetings with Moon and a highly choreographed June summit with US President Donald Trump at which they issued an aspirational goal of a nuclear-free peninsula, without describing how or when it would occur.
Kim has presented himself as an international statesman, sharing food, wine and laughs with South Korean officials and appearing thoroughly at ease during his meeting with Trump in Singapore.
But post-summit nuclear negotiations between North Korea and the United States got off to a rocky start, with the North accusing Washington of making “gangster-like” unilateral demands for denuclearization, and calling for sanctions to be lifted before any further progress in nuclear talks.
There are doubts whether Kim is willing to fully relinquish his country’s nuclear weapons, which he may see as a stronger guarantee of survival than whatever security assurances the United States could provide.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo visited Kim in Pyongyang, North Korea’s capital, on Sunday for talks on setting up a second summit with Trump.
The Vatican’s priests were expelled by North Korea long ago and state-appointed laymen officiate services.
Estimates of the number of North Korean Catholics range from 800 to about 3,000, compared to more than 5 million in South Korea.
Affatato said Catholics meet in a church in Pyongyang, one of three churches that exist in North Korea.
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Associated Press writer Colleen Barry in Milan contributed to this report.


Double trouble for Pakistan’s deposed PM Nawaz Sharif

These will be four fresh cases against the Sharif family. (AFP)
Updated 18 November 2018
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Double trouble for Pakistan’s deposed PM Nawaz Sharif

  • The government announced it was referring four more corruption cases against the Sharif family to the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) for investigation

ISLAMABAD: Legal challenges for one of Pakistan’s most influential political families, comprising ousted Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, his political heir and daughter Maryam Nawaz, and younger brother Shehbaz Sharif — former chief minister of Pakistan’s powerful Punjab province — seem to be brewing with new allegations of corruption and misuse of authority surfacing against them.

The government announced it was referring four more corruption cases against the Sharif family to the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) for investigation.

“They misused the taxpayers’ money and authority while in power,” Shahzad Akbar, special assistant to the prime minister on accountability, alleged during a press briefing on Saturday.

Fresh cases

These will be four fresh cases against the Sharif family and the first to be referred to the NAB and Federal Board of Revenue (FBR) by the incumbent government.

Detailing the misuse of public resources by Shehbaz Sharif and Maryam, special assistant to the PM on media Iftikhar Durrani alleged that they both enjoyed unauthorized use of ex-premier Nawaz Sharif’s aircraft, besides squandering public funds on the erection of a security fence around their palatial residence in Lahore, and misuse of authority while in office.

Government officials also revealed during the press briefing that a new high-end property portfolio in Frederick Close, central London, worth around £2.3 million ($2.95 million) recently came to the fore, reportedly owned by Sharif’s late wife. 

The documents about its ownership and rental income between 2012 and 2016 had been available, “but were buried in the files,” said Akbar. 

Senator Mushahidullah Khan, veteran leader of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) party, however, said that the cases against the Sharif family were “politically motivated” and the prosecutors had failed to present concrete evidence of corruption against Sharif in the accountability court.

“The PTI (Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaf) government thinks it can politically damage the Sharif family by leveling false allegations of corruption and misuse of authority against them, but this is not going to work,” he told Arab News.

Pakistan’s law required Nawaz Sharif, being a member of the National Assembly and holder of the country’s top public office, to declare his dependents’ assets, including his wife’s, in the official documents, which he did not.

 The undeclared central London property held in the name of Begum Kulsoom Nawaz will now be probed by both the NAB and the FBR.

 “We are handing over all documentary evidence to these institutions for investigation,” said Durrani. 

 The corruption cases that the Sharif family has faced until now were either filed during their own tenure in power in 2013-18, or during the previous governments of the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) and General Pervez Musharraf.

Shehbaz Sharif, former chief minister of Punjab Province, is currently in the NAB’s custody, facing at least two cases of corruption pertaining to his tenure in the office.

 In July this year, Nawaz Sharif, Maryam and son-in-law Muhammad Safdar were handed jail terms of 11 years, six years and one year respectively, in a corruption reference pertaining to their undeclared offshore companies and properties in London.

 The trio is currently on bail while the verdict in two more corruption references against Nawaz Sharif is expected to be announced in the next couple of weeks.

Political analysts believe that the Sharif family will still have a long way to go to prove their innocence in the courts and return to the political arena. 

“Any imminent return of the Sharif family in national politics does not seem possible in the given situation,” Professor Tahir Malik, academic and analyst, told Arab News.

Sharif has yet to defend his position in two corruption references currently undergoing hearing against him involving Al-Azizia Steel Mill in Saudi Arabia and monetary transactions made through Flagship Investment Limited, both of which he denies any connection to.