South Korean PM likely to meet Japan’s Abe next week amid strained ties

Officials are trying to finalize a meeting between Shinzo Abe and Lee Nak-yon on October 24. (File/AFP)
Updated 18 October 2019

South Korean PM likely to meet Japan’s Abe next week amid strained ties

  • The PM is scheduled to attend the enthronement ceremony of Japanese emperor
  • Tensions flared between the neighbors after South Korean court ordered a Japanese firm to compensate some wartime laborers

SEOUL: South Korea’s Prime Minister Lee Nak-yon is expected to meet Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe next Thursday in what would be the highest-level talks between the two countries since Tokyo imposed export curbs in a deepening trade and diplomatic spat, Seoul officials said on Friday.

Lee is scheduled to visit Tokyo for Oct. 22-24 to attend Japanese Emperor Naruhito’s enthronement ceremony on behalf of President Moon Jae-in.

Both sides are trying to finalize a meeting between Lee and Abe on Oct. 24 following a banquet hosted by Abe the day before, Lee’s office said in a statement.

Relations between the neighbors are arguably at their lowest ebb since they normalized ties in 1965, after South Korea’s Supreme Court last year ordered two Japanese companies to compensate some wartime laborers. Tensions flared between the two following the ruling.

Lee said in an interview with Japan’s Asahi newspaper released on Friday that he might deliver a letter from Moon expressing his willingness to work together to resolve disagreement over the forced labor issue.

An official at Moon’s office said he and Lee had discussed the idea, but a decision on it had not yet been taken.

“Our fundamental position is that politics and economic issues should be handled separately and we hope to foster forward-looking relations and resolve problems through dialogue,” the official told reporters, speaking on condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the ties.

Japan says the wartime labor issue was settled under the 1965 treaty that normalized ties.

The dispute has since spilled over into trade and security, with Japan slapping export curbs and South Korea scrapping a bilateral intelligence-sharing pact.

Jakarta mosques reopen as city eases virus curbs

Muslims attend Friday Prayers at the Great Mosque of Al Azhar in Jakarta, Indonesia, as government eases restrictions amid a coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, June 5, 2020. (REUTERS)
Updated 05 June 2020

Jakarta mosques reopen as city eases virus curbs

  • Mosque capacity reduced to half, with health protocols in place
  • Jakarta remains center of the pandemic in Indonesia

JAKARTA: Mosques in Jakarta welcomed congregations for Friday prayers for the first time after an 11-week shutdown due to coronavirus curbs as the Indonesian capital began to ease control measures.

“I am grateful I can perform Friday prayers again after almost three months,” Ilham Roni, a worshipper at Cut Meutia Mosque in Central Jakarta, told Arab News.

“As a Jakarta resident, I have been complying with city regulations. Now that we can pray again, I follow the health protocols by maintaining social distance, wearing a facial mask and washing my hands (before entering the mosque).”

Mosques are opened by a caretaker 30 minutes before prayer starts and are closed 30 minutes after the conclusion of the congregational prayer.

Caretakers at Al I’thisom Mosque in South Jakarta have been preparing since Tuesday, even before Jakarta Gov. Anies Baswedan announced on Thursday that the city is extending its COVID-19 restrictions for the third time since measures came into force on April 10.

The capital is easing lockdown curbs in phases, starting with the reopening of places of worship on Friday, although capacity has been halved and strict health protocols put in place.

“We did not know if we would be allowed to reopen the mosque, but we kept preparing to put out markings just in case, and on Thursday we got the confirmation,” one of the mosque caretakers Sumidi, who goes only by one name, told Arab News.

He said the mosque now can only accommodate 400 worshippers out of its normal 1,000 capacity.

Caretakers have put up markings to keep a 1.2-meter distance between worshippers inside the mosque, while in its parking lot, the distance is maintained at 97 cm. Hand-washing facilities have been installed at the entrance.

The governor did not set a fixed date for the extension to end, although the most likely time frame is until the end of June as the city is in a transition mode throughout the month.

Workplaces and businesses with standalone locations can open from June 8, to be followed by non-food retailers in malls and shopping centers from June 15. Recreational parks will be allowed to reopen on June 21.

“Essentially, all activities are allowed to accommodate 50 percent of their normal capacity and by strictly maintaining social distancing measures. The movement of people has to be engineered to meet this criteria,” Baswedan said during a live press conference. “This is the golden rule during the transition phase.”

"If we see a spike in new cases during this phase, the city administration will have to enforce its authority to halt these eased restrictions. It is our ‘emergency brake’ policy,” Baswedan said.

Jakarta remains the center of the pandemic in Indonesia, although infections in the city no longer account for half or more of the national tally, as has been the case since the outbreak was confirmed in Indonesia in early March.

As of June 5, Jakarta accounts for 7,766 cases of infections out of the 29,521 in the national total, with 524 deaths out of 1,770 who have died in the country.

Baswedan said since the introduction of restrictions in mid-March, the city has seen a significant drop in infections and deaths following a peak in mid-April.

But the transition phase depends on the residents’ continued strict compliance with virus-control measures, he said.

“We will evaluate by the end of June. If all indicators are good, we can begin the second phase,” Baswedan said.

“We don’t want to go back to the way it was in the previous month.”