US ‘fairly certain’ of virus outbreak in North Korea

Passengers wearing masks as a precaution against a new coronavirus line up to check in for a flight to Vladivostok, Russia, at the Pyongyang International Airport in Pyongyang, North Korea, Monday, March 9, 2020. (AP)
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Updated 15 March 2020

US ‘fairly certain’ of virus outbreak in North Korea

  • Weapon tests seen as attempts to distract attention from public health situation

SEOUL: The coronavirus epidemic has reached North Korea despite its regime’s claims that it is immune to the disease that has originated in neighboring China, a top US general said on Friday.

“It is a closed-off nation, so we can’t say emphatically that they have cases. But we’re fairly certain they do,” Gen. Robert Abrams, commander of US Forces Korea and US-South Korea Combined Forces Command, said during a video conference with Pentagon reporters.
The four-star general has the authority to command and control both the US and South Korean military in case of war with the North. About 28,000 US troops are stationed in South Korea as a deterrent against nuclear-armed North Korea.
Abrams said North Korean forces appear to have “been on lockdown for about 30 days,” as intelligence sources indicate that the North’s air force has not flown any airplanes for the past 24 days.
North Korea’s recent test launches of short-range projectiles off its eastern coast were referred to by Abrams as “routine training again.”
Observers, however, see the move as North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s attempt to distract public attention from the health situation. The country, which lacks proper health care infrastructure, may have no diagnostic capability to test people who show coronavirus symptoms.

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About 28,000 US troops are stationed in South Korea as deterrence against nuclear-armed North Korea.

“The latest test launch of projectiles appears to have something to do with the spread of the coronavirus,” said Park Won-dong, a professor of international politics at Handong University in Pohang, in the province of North Gyeongsang.
Pyongyang has not reported a single coronavirus case, but it has sealed off the border with China. North Korea’s state media has said the country is taking active measures to prevent local outbreaks.
Some South Korean media outlets reported last week that Pyongyang made an unofficial request to Seoul for the provision of face masks, but it was turned down as South Koreans were also struggling to secure protective gear in the wake of the outbreak.
According to the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 107 new cases were reported on Saturday, slightly down from 110 new cases a day earlier and 114 on Thursday. The nation’s total tally reached 8,806 cases.


Over 200,000 vote in Hong Kong’s pro-democracy primaries

Updated 12 July 2020

Over 200,000 vote in Hong Kong’s pro-democracy primaries

  • Exercise being held two weeks after Beijing imposed a sweeping national security law on the semi-autonomous territory

HONG KONG: Hundreds of thousands of Hong Kongers turned up over the weekend to vote in an unofficial two-day primary election held by the city’s pro-democracy camp as it gears up to field candidates for an upcoming legislative poll.
The exercise is being held two weeks after Beijing imposed a sweeping national security law on the semi-autonomous territory in a move widely seen as chipping away at the “one country, two systems” framework under which Britain handed Hong Kong over to China in 1997. It was passed in response to last year’s massive protests calling for greater democracy and more police accountability.
Throngs of people lined up at polling booths in the summer heat to cast their vote despite a warning by Hong Kong’s constitutional affairs minister, Eric Tsang last week that the primaries could be in breach of the new national security law, because it outlaws interference and disruption of duties by the local government.
Organizers have dismissed the comments, saying they just want to hold the government accountable by gaining a majority in the legislature.
The legislation prohibits what Beijing views as secessionist, subversive or terrorist activities or as foreign intervention in Hong Kong affairs. Under the law, police now have sweeping powers to conduct searches without warrants and order Internet service providers and platforms to remove messages deemed to be in violation of the legislation.
On Friday, police raided the office of the Public Opinion Research Institute, a co-organizer of the primary elections. The computer system was suspected of being hacked, causing a data leak, police said in a statement, and an investigation is ongoing.
Hong Kong’s pro-democracy camp, which includes multiple parties, is attempting to join forces and use the primaries as a guide to field the best candidates in the official legislative election in September. Its goal is to win a majority in the legislature, which is typically skewed toward the pro-Beijing camp.
To hold the primary elections, pro-democracy activists had raised money via crowd funding. They pledged to veto the government’s budget if they clinch a majority in the legislature. Under the Basic Law, under which Hong Kong is governed, city leader Carrie Lam must resign if an important bill such as the budget is vetoed twice.
On Saturday alone, nearly 230,000 people voted at polling booths set up across the city, exceeding organizers’ estimates of a 170,000 turnout over the weekend.