US, South Korea scale back military exercise

The Ohio-class guided-missile submarine USS Michigan is welcomed as it arrives in Busan, South Korea in this April 25, 2017 photo. (AFP)
Updated 22 November 2018
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US, South Korea scale back military exercise

  • ‘Foal Eagle is being reorganized a bit to keep it at a level that will not be harmful to diplomacy’
  • Foal Eagle is the biggest of the regular joint exercises held by the allies, and has always infuriated Pyongyang

WASHINGTON: The United States and South Korea have scaled down an annual joint military exercise scheduled for the spring of 2019 to facilitate nuclear talks with North Korea, US Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said Wednesday.
“Foal Eagle is being reorganized a bit to keep it at a level that will not be harmful to diplomacy,” Mattis said, adding that it would be “reduced in scope.”
Foal Eagle is the biggest of the regular joint exercises held by the allies, and has always infuriated Pyongyang, which condemned it as preparations for invasion.
But the drill — one of the world’s largest field exercises involving 200,000 South Korean and some 30,000 US soldiers — was delayed and scaled down last year as diplomatic detente took hold on the peninsula.
And following a historic summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Singapore in June, US President Donald Trump announced that the US would stop holding joint exercises with the South, calling them expensive and “very provocative.”
Since then the two allies have suspended most of their major joint exercises including the Ulchi Freedom Guardian in August and Vigilant Ace, slated for next month.
But more recently progress in talks with the North has stalled, with the US pushing to maintain sanctions against it until its “final, fully verified denuclearization” and Pyongyang condemning US demands as “gangster-like.”
Washington stations 28,500 troops in the South to defend it from its nuclear-armed neighbor, which invaded in 1950.
But differences are beginning to emerge between Seoul and Washington.
The South’s dovish president Moon Jae-in has long favored engagement with the North, which is subject to multiple UN Security Council sanctions over its nuclear and ballistic missile programs.
He has dangled large investment and joint cross-border projects as incentives for steps toward denuclearization, while the US has been adamant pressure should be maintained on Pyongyang until it fully dismantles its weapons programs.
Seoul’s defense ministry said Mattis’ comments were in line with their shared view on the need to back diplomacy — but a spokeswoman added that the question of whether the exercises will take place at all was “still under discussion.”
Kim Hyun-wook, a professor at the South’s state-run Korea National Diplomatic Academy, said reducing the exercise was largely expected.
“The Trump administration claims Pyongyang’s suspension of nuclear and missile tests as the key achievement of its North Korea policy and the joint drills have been postponed as a kind of corresponding measure,” Kim said.
“As long as talks continue, postponing or reducing major US-South Korea joint exercises has become a fait accompli,” he said.
Earlier this month Pyongyang threatened to “seriously” consider returning to its weapons drive if Washington did not end its tough economic sanctions.
And last month, the North’s state media carried a near 1,700-word commentary accusing the US of playing a “double game,” implicitly criticizing Trump for comments aimed at barring Seoul from lifting sanctions against Pyongyang.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Wednesday defended Washington’s strategy on the peninsula, noting that North Korea had halted missile launches and had not conducted a nuclear test in over a year.
“And I do hope there’ll be a summit between the two leaders early in 2019,” he said in an interview with KCMO radio.
Pyongyang has declared its nuclear and missile development complete, saying it has no further need for testing.
Trump has also said he hopes to have a second meeting with Kim early next year, but talks between Pompeo and a top North Korean official, partly to prepare for the meeting, were canceled.
The US said the North axed the talks because they weren’t ready, and Trump insisted he was in “no rush.”


Australian judge sentences ‘mass murderer’ to life in prison

Updated 39 min 31 sec ago
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Australian judge sentences ‘mass murderer’ to life in prison

  • James Gargasoulas was in a drug-induced psychosis in January 2017 when he killed the six people and injured dozens more
  • His victims included a 3-month-old baby who was thrown 60 meters (200 feet) from his stroller and a 10-year-old girl.

MELBOURNE, Australia: A man who drove a stolen car into lunchtime crowds in downtown Melbourne and killed six people was sentenced to life imprisonment Friday in what the judge described as “one of the worst examples of mass murder in Australian history.”
James Gargasoulas, 29, showed little emotion when sentenced in Victoria state’s Supreme Court. Under the terms of his sentence, he will spend at least 46 years in prison before he’s eligible for parole.
Families of the victims filled the courtroom for Justice Mark Weinberg’s ruling. Gargasoulas was in a drug-induced psychosis in January 2017 when he killed the six people and injured dozens more in the busy Bourke St. Mall.
His victims included a 3-month-old baby who was thrown 60 meters (200 feet) from his stroller and a 10-year-old girl.
“Your actions were both callous and cowardly,” the judge said. “You have shown no genuine remorse.”
The judge described in detail the events of the “terrifying rampage,” noting each victim killed as well as those left with broken bones, head injuries, internal bleeding and other lasting damage.
“You left a trail of destruction,” the judge said. “The horror of what you did has profoundly impacted the lives of those who were present that day.”
Crime Stoppers Victoria ambassador George Halvagis said he thinks Gargasoulas should die in jail.
“He should never, ever, get out of there,” he told reporters after the sentencing.
Grieving relatives earlier told the court of their pain. The brother of Japanese victim Yosuke Kanno, 25, said he will continue suffering until he dies.
In a letter read to the court, Gargasoulas insisted he was not evil and blamed “government oppression” for the murders. He also said he was the Messiah and was acting on the wishes of God on the day of the rampage, but was in a “bad headspace.”
Gargasoulas has treatment-resistant paranoid schizophrenia but was found fit to stand trial. He pleaded not guilty. In November, a jury found him guilty of the six murders and 27 counts of reckless conduct endangering life.
He had been using drugs and committing crimes in the weeks before the attack and was on bail. The judge noted he was meant to face court on the day of the massacre. Police had tailed the stolen Holden Commodore for some of its journey into downtown Melbourne before the rampage.
“Your crimes have had a shattering effect on countless lives,” Weinberg said.
Gargasoulas will be eligible to apply for release in 2063, when he’s 73.