Trump ignores pleas to calm North Korea tensions

US President Donald Trump
Updated 26 September 2017

Trump ignores pleas to calm North Korea tensions

WASHINGTON: Donald Trump on Tuesday accused North Korea of torturing a captive US student “beyond belief,” spurning pleas from allies and foes in east Asia to tone down his warlike rhetoric.
For the first time, Trump publicly accused Pyongyang of abusing the late 22-year-old Otto Warmbier, an allegation likely to heighten tensions between the two nuclear powers.
Last June the Ohio native was sent home in a coma after more than a year in prison in North Korea. He died a few days later.
Aides say Trump was personally shocked and angered by Warmbier’s death, and that the government suspects mistreatment.
But the US president had stopped short of publicly accusing the regime of torture, a move that would raise expectations of a tough response, raise tensions and could complicate any future releases.
Since June, the US and North Korea have traded military moves and bombastic insults in a stand-off over Kim Jong-Un’s nuclear and ballistic weapons programs.
After seeing Warmbier’s parents on television Tuesday morning, Trump cast previous concerns aside.
“Otto was tortured beyond belief by North Korea,” he said in an early morning tweet.
The missive came just hours after South Korea — whose densely-populated capital Seoul is located just 35 miles from the demilitarized zone dividing the Korean peninsula — asked its US ally to take the heat out of the situation.
Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha visited Washington to warn it was imperative to “prevent further escalation of tensions or any kind of accidental military clashes which can quickly go out of control.”
Similarly, China, the North’s neighbor and only major ally, warned Tuesday that any conflict would have “no winners.”
Foreign ministry spokesman Lu Kang said rhetorical sparring “will only increase the risk of confrontation and reduce the room for policy maneuver.”
US Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, visiting India, stressed that Washington wants a diplomatic solution to the North Korean nuclear crisis.
“We maintain the capability to deter North Korea’s most dangerous threats but also to back up our diplomats in a manner that keeps this as long as possible in the diplomatic realm,” he said in New Delhi after talks with his Indian counterpart.
Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un traded barbs in the wake of the North’s sixth nuclear bomb and multiple missile tests.
Pyongyang says it needs the weapons to defend itself against the threat of a US invasion.
Alarm over Pyongyang’s nuclear and ballistic missile programs dominated the gathering of world leaders at the United Nations, amid fears the heated rhetoric could accidentally trigger a war.
In his UN address last week, Trump delivered the blunt threat to “totally destroy” North Korea if provoked, deriding leader Kim Jong-un as “Rocket Man.”
Kim hit back with a personal attack of his own, branding Trump “mentally deranged” and a “dotard” and warning he would “pay dearly.”
The North’s Foreign Minister Ri Yong-ho on Monday called a press conference to hit back at a US bomber mission near the North’s coastline and a slew of bombastic warnings from the American president.
Taking umbrage at Trump’s weekend tweet that North Korea’s leadership “won’t be around much longer” if it keeps up its threats, Ri told reporters the international community hoped that a “war of words” would “not turn into real actions.”
“However, last weekend, Trump claimed our leadership would not be around much longer,” said Ri, who attended this year’s UN General Assembly session. “He declared a war on our country.”
The White House said Ri’s interpretation of Trump’s saber-rattling as “absurd.”
Fears of a clash were sharpened after US bombers flew off the coast of North Korea on Saturday — going further north of the demilitarized zone than any US aircraft has flown this century.
“Since the United States declared war on our country, we will have every right to take counter-measures including the right to shoot down US strategic bombers even when they are not yet inside the airspace border of our country,” Ri said.
“The question of who won’t be around much longer will be answered then.”
A Pentagon spokesman stressed the bombers flew in international airspace and had every right to do so.
South Korea’s National Intelligence Service (NIS) said that while Pyongyang did not appear to have picked up the presence of the US warplanes over the weekend, it had since bolstered its coastal defenses.
“North Korea relocated its warplanes and strengthened defenses along the east coast,” said Lee Cheol-Woo, the chief of the National Assembly’s intelligence committee.


South Korean ‘cult’ blamed for spike in coronavirus cases

Updated 13 min 32 sec ago

South Korean ‘cult’ blamed for spike in coronavirus cases

  • Critics say the group’s secretive nature and the manner in which it worships could have lead to the fast spread of the virus
  • Most of the confirmed cases are in the city of Daegu, about 300 km southeast of Seoul, where large services for Shincheonji members were held on Feb. 16

SEOUL: With the number of coronavirus cases skyrocketing in South Korea in the past week, a local fringe Christian sect has been blamed for the growing outbreak.
As of Wednesday, a total of 1,261 people had tested positive with 12 deaths reported. Just a week ago, the number of infected persons stood at 50. However, South Korea has seen by far the highest number of the Covid-19 cases outside China.
Health authorities believe the Shincheonji Church of Jesus is at the heart of the alarming spread of the pandemic, as more than half of the confirmed cases have been found to be linked to the religious sect, which is widely regarded as a cult.
“The mass infections came after Shincheonji followers took part in the Feb. 16 service and had frequent contacts around that time,” Jeong Eun-kyeong, director of the Korean Center for Disease Control (KCDC), told reporters on Wednesday.
Most of the confirmed cases are in the city of Daegu, about 300 km southeast of Seoul, where large services for Shincheonji members were held on Feb. 16. Thousands of worshippers are believed to have attended, authorities said.
The other cluster of infections is a hospital in Cheongdo, a neighboring county of Daegu. Shincheonji members are also known to have visited the hospital, according to the KCDC officials.
Officially called the Shincheonji Church of Jesus the Temple of the Tabernacle of the Testimony, the group was founded in 1984 and claims to have around 240,000 followers worldwide.
Shincheonji followers are taught to believe that Lee Man-hee, the founder of the organization, is the second coming or the returned Christ. The church claims the Bible is written in metaphors which only its founder can correctly interpret.
Critics say the group’s secretive nature and the manner in which it worships could have lead to the fast spread of the virus.
“They hold services sitting packed together on the floor and kneel very close to one another,” Shin Hyun-uk, director of the Guri Cult Counseling Center, said.
Shin was a member of the cult for 20 years until 2006 and has been leading a campaign to extract members from the church ever since he realized that “the group was not a normal religion.”
Shin said the Shincheonji churchgoers shout out “amen” at the top of their lungs “after every sentence the pastor utters.”
“While holding services, worshippers send respiratory droplets flying everywhere, causing the virus to be transmitted easily,” he said.
Most members of the church hide their membership, which means the virus goes undetected, Sin warned.
“Few families of the Shincheonji members know their sons, daughters, wives, husbands and parents were taken in the cult religion. I guess only 20 to 30 percent of the family members of the Shincheonji worshippers would recognize it,” he said. “That’s the key reason health officials have difficulty in tracking and curbing the virus being transmitted from worshippers to others.”
A 61-year-old female member of the sect tested positive for the virus last week, but initially refused to be transferred to a hospital so as not to reveal the fact that she had attended Shincheonji gatherings.
A Daegu health official responsible for quarantine also revealed he is a Shincheonji member after being tested positive.
Critics say uncovering the identities of Shincheonji members will be difficult since the group conceals the names of politicians, public officials and other celebrities.
Amid growing public anger at the sect, the group said at the weekend that it will fully cooperate with government investigations.
On Tuesday, officials broke into the group’s headquarters in Gwacheon, Gyeonggi Province, to discover a full list of members for quarantine measures.
The government said it has secured a list of 212,000 Shincheonji worshippers and will begin conducting coronavirus tests on those who have respiratory symptoms.
Over 800,000 people have signed an online petition since Saturday after it was filed on the website of the presidential office of Cheong Wa Dae.
Authorities are looking into how the disease was first transmitted to the group. More than 9,000 Shincheonji worshippers have been put under quarantine.
The Seoul government has been scrambling to contain growing expressions of public anger.
As of Wednesday morning, over 400,000 South Koreans had signed an online petition calling for President Moon Jae-in to be impeached.
Petitioners say Moon failed to halt entry to visitors from all parts of China, only prohibiting the entry of foreigners from China’s Hubei province, where Wuhan, the center of the outbreak, is located.
Meanwhile, the US Forces Korea (USFK) reported on Tuesday that it had detected the first infection in one of its troops. The 23-year-old soldier is stationed at Camp Carroll, near Daegu, but has been quarantined at his home off base, according to the command. The development came a day after a widow of a retired US soldier living in Daegu contracted the virus.
“KCDC and USFK health professionals are actively conducting contact tracing to determine whether any others may have been exposed,” the USFK said in a news release Feb. 25.
“USFK is implementing all appropriate control measures to help control the spread of Covid-19 and remains at risk level ‘high’ for USFK peninsula-wide as a prudent measure to protect the force,” it said.
More countries, including Japan, the Philippines, Vietnam and Singapore, have started to impose bans on South Korean travelers because of the virus outbreak.