Korea test-fires ‘super-large multiple rocket launcher'

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This picture released on August 25 by North Korea's official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) shows the test-firing of a 'newly developed super-large multiple rocket launcher', at an undisclosed location. (AFP)
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North Korean leader Kim Jong Un attends the test of a multiple rocket launcher in this undated photo released on August 25, 2019 by North Korea's Korean Central News Agency (KCNA). (Reuters)
Updated 25 August 2019

Korea test-fires ‘super-large multiple rocket launcher'

  • Kim likes testing missiles, says US president
  • Denuclearization talks in trouble

SEOUL: North Korea test-fired a new type of multiple rocket launch system late Saturday into the sea off its east coast, state media reported.

It was the seventh test in a month, as negotiations to scrap the North’s nuclear arsenal flounder.

The North’s official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) said on Sunday that the latest weapons’ test was on a newly developed “super-large multiple rocket launcher.”

The country’s leader Kim Jong-un oversaw the test and called the device a “great weapon.”

North Korea must step up its development of strategic and tactical weapons to counter the “ever-mounting military threats and pressure offensive of hostile forces,” KCNA reported Kim as saying while he oversaw the testing.

One of the short-range weapons has been identified as a KN-23, a mobile short-range ballistic missile based on the technology of Russia’s Iskander missile, which could hit targets across the South after evading missile interceptors operated by South Korea’s military. Pyongyang maintains that joint South Korea-US military drills are a provocation.

South Korea officials urged the North to stop hostile acts.

“We express strong concern that the North continues to test-fire short-range projectiles despite the South Korea-US military drills ending,” a presidential spokesman told reporters on Saturday. “We urge the North to halt such hostile acts that raise military tensions.”

Despite worries about the North’s provocations that could harm the security of South Korea where 28,500 US armed forces personnel are stationed, US President Donald Trump again touted his friendship with Kim.

“Kim Jong-un has been pretty straight with me, I think, and we’re going to see what’s going on, we’re going to see what’s happening,” he told reporters in Washington before heading to the G-7 summit in France on Friday night. “He likes testing missiles, but we never restricted short-range missiles.”

Trump and Kim held a surprise meeting in the Demilitarized Zone in June and agreed to resume working-level denuclearization negotiations within a month, but such a meeting has yet to be held.

In a further sign that nuclear disarmament talks are barely holding together, the North blamed US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo for complicating the talks, calling him a “diehard toxin.”

“He is truly impudent enough to utter such thoughtless words which only leave us disappointed and skeptical as to where we can solve any problem with such a guy,” North Korea’s Foreign Minister Ri Yong-ho said on Friday in a statement carried by KCNA, referring to Pompeo’s recent remarks in which he said sanctions would be kept until the North took concrete steps to bin nuclear weapons.

US Special Representative Stephen Biegun for North Korea was in Seoul last week to discuss ways to get negotiations back on track but it is not clear if he contacted his North Korean counterpart.

Biegun’s efforts were overshadowed by South Korea’s surprising decision to sever military ties with Japan. 

On Thursday, the presidential Blue House announced it would pull out of an intelligence-sharing agreement with Japan, a key pillar of the US-led trilateral alliance in East Asia to check the influence of China and Russia.

The intelligence pact, called the General Security of Military Information Agreement (GSOMIA), has benefited South Korea’s military to collect key information on North Korean nuclear and missile activities, as Japan operates seven spy satellites while South Korea has no such strategic assets.

The decision to end GSOMIA came amid escalating trade disputes over Japan’s restriction of exporting chip-making materials to South Korea following disputes arising from Japanese colonial rule.


School trip hijab clash sparks new secularism row in France

Updated 10 min 42 sec ago

School trip hijab clash sparks new secularism row in France

  • Far-right politician Julien Odoul asked a woman accompanying her son and other children on a school trip to a regional parliament to remove her headscarf
  • The issue has divided politicians and citizens in a country that often struggles with finding a balance between individual religious freedom and constitutionally-guaranteed secularism

PARIS: A new row over secularism and the wearing of the Islamic hijab in public buildings has erupted in France after a far-right politician asked a woman accompanying her son and other children on a school trip to remove her headscarf.
The issue has divided politicians and citizens in a country that often struggles with finding a balance between individual religious freedom and constitutionally-guaranteed secularism in the public sector, including schools.
Julien Odoul, a member of Marine Le Pen’s National Rally (RN) party, caused widespread outrage when he posted a video on Twitter of him confronting a woman who accompanied pupils last Friday to the regional parliament in Bourgogne-Franche-Comte in eastern France.
Citing “secular principles” in the wake of the killings in Paris this month of four police staff by a radicalized convert to Islam, he insisted the woman, whose son was among the group, remove her headscarf.
Members of the RN then walked out of the chamber before issuing a press statement denouncing “an Islamist provocation.”
But many, including regional parliament speaker Marie-Guite Dufay, criticized Odoul’s actions, saying neither the law of the country nor the rules of the chamber prohibited a member of the public wearing a headscarf.
Dufay denounced a “surge of hatred” and what she described as “undignified behavior” on the part of a lawmaker.
With the RN playing up the issue, the controversy has exposed divisions within the centrist ruling party of President Emmanuel Macron which is keenly aware Marine Le Pen’s faction is its chief political foe.
Even the country’s Education Minister Jean-Michel Blanquer seemed unable to pick a side, stressing Sunday that “the law does not prohibit women wearing headscarves to accompany children,” while saying “the headscarf itself is not desirable in our society” because of “what it says about the status of women, what it says about our values.”
Government spokeswoman Sibeth Ndiaye also weighed in, saying it was important to allow space for exchanges between women who wear headscarves and those who do not, as this promoted “inclusivity.”
But Economy Minister Bruno Le Maire came to the defense of “a culture in which religion remains in the intimate, private sphere and does not have a place in (the) public sphere.”
And Budget Minister Gerald Darmanin added: “I would prefer that women in the Republic, in France, do not wear a headscarf.”
Prime Minister Edouard Philippe told parliament he was opposed to any kind of new law specifically targeting what should be worn on school trips.
The controversy is the latest in France over face and body-covering garments which many perceive as inappropriate in a secular country while others argue the garments allow Muslim women to be active participants in French society.
The French state and church were officially separated by law in 1905 to give form to the concept of secularism rooted in the 1789 French Revolution.
In 2004, the government prohibited the wearing of conspicuous religions symbols in public schools and banned the hijab — a garment that covers a woman’s hair but leaves her face exposed — from classrooms and government offices.
The country with Europe’s largest Muslim population is also deeply divided over the body-concealing “burkini” swimsuit, with opposition to the garment forcing the closure of some swimming pools earlier this year in the midst of a heatwave.
Also this year, French sports retailer Decathlon was forced by public pressure to back down from a plan to sell a runner’s hijab in France.
An opinion poll released on Monday found that two in three French people are in favor of prohibiting parents accompanying kids on school trips from wearing visible religious symbols.
France does not officially collect data on religious affiliation but is believed to have a Muslim population of just under 10 percent. Not all are observant.
A study published in September by the IFOP polling group found that more than half of Muslim men questioned said they went to the mosque every Friday, compared to about one in five women.
The upper house of parliament, the Senate, will discuss the subject as early as next week, with a committee examining a draft law seeking to “ensure the religious neutrality of people who contribute to the public service of education.”