North Korea tests ‘strategic’ cruise missile with possible nuclear capability

This combination of photos provided by the North Korean government on Monday, Sept. 13, 2021, shows long-range cruise missiles tests held on Sept. (AP)
This combination of photos provided by the North Korean government on Monday, Sept. 13, 2021, shows long-range cruise missiles tests held on Sept. (AP)
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Updated 13 September 2021

North Korea tests ‘strategic’ cruise missile with possible nuclear capability

This combination of photos provided by the North Korean government on Monday, Sept. 13, 2021, shows long-range cruise missiles tests held on Sept. (AP)
  • KCNA said the missiles tested over the weekend traveled for 126 minutes “along an oval and pattern-8 flight orbits” above North Korean land and waters before hitting their targets

SEOUL, South Korea: North Korea says it successfully test fired what it described as newly developed long-range cruise missiles over the weekend, its first known testing activity in months, underscoring how it continues to expand its military capabilities amid a stalemate in nuclear negotiations with the United States.
The Korean Central News Agency said Monday the cruise missiles, which had been under development for two years, successfully hit targets 1,500 kilometers (932 miles) away during flight tests on Saturday and Sunday.
The North hailed its new missiles as a “strategic weapon of great significance” that meets leader Kim Jong Un’s call to strengthen the country’s military might, implying that they were being developed with an intent to arm them with nuclear warheads.
South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said the military was analyzing the North Korean launches based on US and South Korean intelligence.
Kim during a congress of the ruling Workers’ Party in January doubled down on his pledge to bolster his nuclear deterrent in the face of US sanctions and pressure and issued a long wish list of new sophisticated assets, including longer-range intercontinental ballistic missiles, nuclear-powered submarines, spy satellites and tactical nuclear weapons. Kim also said then that his national defense scientists were developing “intermediate-range cruise missiles with the most powerful warheads in the world.”
North Korea’s weapons tests are meant to build a nuclear and missile program that can stand up to what it claims as US and South Korean hostility, but they are also considered by outside analysts as ways to make its political demands clear to leaders in Washington and Seoul.
The North’s resumption of testing activity is likely an attempt at pressuring the Biden administration over the diplomatic freeze after Kim failed to leverage his arsenal for economic benefits during the the presidency of Donald Trump.
North Korea ended a yearlong pause in ballistic tests in March by firing two short-range ballistic missiles into the sea, continuing a tradition of testing new US administrations with weapons demonstrations aimed at measuring Washington’s response and wresting concessions.
But there hadn’t been any known test launches for months after that as Kim focused national efforts on fending off the coronavirus and salvaging his economy.
KCNA said the missiles tested over the weekend traveled for 126 minutes “along an oval and pattern-8 flight orbits” above North Korean land and waters before hitting their targets.
“The test launches showed that the technical indices such as the thrust power of the newly developed turbine-blast engine, the missiles’ navigation control and the end guided hit accuracy by the combined guided mode met the requirements of designs. In all, the efficiency and practicality of the weapon system operation was confirmed to be excellent,” it said.
It appeared that Kim wasn’t in attendance to observe the tests. KCNA said Kim’s top military official, Pak Jong Chon, observed the test-firings and called for the country’s defense scientists to go “all out to increase” the North’s military capabilities.
Kim’s powerful sister last month hinted that North Korea was ready to resume weapons testing while issuing a statement berating the United States and South Korea for continuing their joint military exercises, which she said was the “most vivid expression of US hostile policy.”
She then said the North would boost its pre-emptive strike capabilities while another senior official threatened unspecified countermeasures that would leave the allies facing a “security crisis.”
The allies say the drills are defensive in nature, but they have canceled or downsized them in recent years to create space for diplomacy or in response to COVID-19.
Talks between the United States and North Korea have stalled since the collapse of a summit between Trump and Kim in 2019, when the Americans rejected the North’s demand for major sanctions relief in exchange for a partial surrender of its nuclear capabilities. Kim’s government has so far rejected the Biden administration’s overtures for dialogue, demanding that Washington abandon its “hostile” policies first.
The latest tests came after Kim threw an unusual parade in capital Pyongyang last week that was a marked departure from past militaristic displays, showcasing anti-virus workers in hazmat suits and civil defense organizations involved in industrial work and rebuilding communities destroyed by floods instead of missiles and other provocative weaponry.
Experts said that the parade was focused on domestic unity as Kim now faces perhaps his toughest test with North Korea wrestling with US-led economic sanctions over its nuclear weapons, pandemic border closures that are causing further strain to its broken economy, and food shortages worsened by floods in recent summers.


Former Malaysia PM Najib Razak may seek re-election to parliament despite conviction

Former Malaysia PM Najib Razak may seek re-election to parliament despite conviction
Updated 8 sec ago

Former Malaysia PM Najib Razak may seek re-election to parliament despite conviction

Former Malaysia PM Najib Razak may seek re-election to parliament despite conviction
  • Najib Razak, who served as premier for nine years until 2018, was found guilty of corruption last year
KUALA LUMPUR: Former Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak has not ruled out seeking re-election to parliament within the next two years, he told Reuters in an interview, undeterred by a corruption conviction that would block him from running.
Najib’s graft-tainted party, the United Malays National Organization (UMNO), clinched the premiership last month after it was ousted from power three years ago over a multibillion-dollar scandal. Opponents had expressed fears that party leaders facing charges could secure leniency once back in control.
Najib, who served as premier for nine years until 2018, was found guilty of corruption last year and sentenced to 12 years in jail over one of many cases over the misappropriation of funds from now-defunct state fund 1MDB. He has denied wrongdoing and has appealed the verdict.
He is still a member of parliament but the constitution bars him from contesting elections unless he gets a pardon or a reprieve from the country’s monarch.
But speaking to Reuters on Saturday, Najib challenged his disqualification saying: “It is subject to interpretation.”
“It depends on interpretation in terms of the law, the constitution and whatever happens in court proceedings,” Najib said.
Asked if he would contest the next elections due by 2023, he said: “Any politician who would want to play a role would want a seat in parliament.”

Haitians on Texas border undeterred by US plan to expel them

Haitians on Texas border undeterred by US plan to expel them
Updated 19 September 2021

Haitians on Texas border undeterred by US plan to expel them

Haitians on Texas border undeterred by US plan to expel them
  • Department of Homeland Security have moved about 2,000 of the migrants from their camp to other locations Friday for processing and possible removal from the US

DEL RIO, Texas: Haitian migrants seeking to escape poverty, hunger and a feeling of hopelessness in their home country said they will not be deterred by US plans to speedily send them back, as thousands of people remained encamped on the Texas border Saturday after crossing from Mexico.
Scores of people waded back and forth across the Rio Grande on Saturday afternoon, re-entering Mexico to purchase water, food and diapers in Ciudad Acuña before returning to the Texas encampment under and near a bridge in the border city of Del Rio.
Junior Jean, a 32-year-old man from Haiti, watched as people cautiously carried cases of water or bags of food through the knee-high river water. Jean said he lived on the streets in Chile the past four years, resigned to searching for food in garbage cans.
“We are all looking for a better life,” he said.
The Department of Homeland Security said Saturday that it moved about 2,000 of the migrants from the camp to other locations Friday for processing and possible removal from the US. Its statement also said it would have 400 agents and officers in the area by Monday morning and would send more if necessary.
The announcement marked a swift response to the sudden arrival of Haitians in Del Rio, a Texas city of about 35,000 people roughly 145 miles (230 kilometers) west of San Antonio. It sits on a relatively remote stretch of border that lacks capacity to hold and process such large numbers of people.
A US official told The Associated Press on Friday that the USwould likely fly the migrants out of the country on five to eight flights a day, starting Sunday, while another official expected no more than two a day and said everyone would be tested for COVID-19. The first official said operational capacity and Haiti’s willingness to accept flights would determine how many flights there would be. Both officials were not authorized to discuss the matter publicly and spoke on the condition of anonymity.
Told of the US plans Saturday, several migrants said they still intended to remain in the encampment and seek asylum. Some spoke of the most recent devastating earthquake in Haiti and the assassination of President Jovenel Moïse, saying they were afraid to return to a country that seems more unstable than when they left.
“In Haiti, there is no security,” said Fabricio Jean, a 38-year-old Haitian who arrived with his wife and two daughters. “The country is in a political crisis.”
Haitians have been migrating to the US in large numbers from South America for several years, many having left their Caribbean nation after a devastating 2010 earthquake. After jobs dried up from the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, many made the dangerous trek by foot, bus and car to the US border, including through the infamous Darien Gap, a Panamanian jungle.
Jorge Luis Mora Castillo, a 48-year-old from Cuba, said he arrived Saturday in Acuna and also planned to cross into the US Castillo said his family paid smugglers $12,000 to take him, his wife and their son out of Paraguay, a South American nation where they had lived for four years.
Told of the US message discouraging migrants, Castillo said he wouldn’t change his mind.
“Because to go back to Cuba is to die,” he said.
US Customs and Border Protection closed off vehicle and pedestrian traffic in both directions Friday at the only border crossing between Del Rio and Ciudad Acuña “to respond to urgent safety and security needs” and it remained closed Saturday. Travelers were being directed indefinitely to a crossing in Eagle Pass, roughly 55 miles (90 kilometers) away.
Crowd estimates varied, but Del Rio Mayor Bruno Lozano said Saturday evening there were 14,534 immigrants at the camp under the bridge. Migrants pitched tents and built makeshif t shelters from giant reeds known as carrizo cane. Many bathed and washed clothing in the river.
It is unclear how such a large number amassed so quickly, though many Haitians have been assembling in camps on the Mexican side of the border to wait while deciding whether to attempt entry into the US
The number of Haitian arrivals began to reach unsustainable levels for the Border Patrol in Del Rio about 2 ½ weeks ago, prompting the agency’s acting sector chief, Robert Garcia, to ask headquarters for help, according to a US official who was not authorized to discuss the matter publicly.
Since then, the agency has transferred Haitians in buses and vans to other Border Patrol facilities in Texas, specifically El Paso, Laredo and Rio Grande Valley. They are mostly processed outside of the pandemic-related authority, meaning they can claim asylum and remain in the US while their claims are considered. US Immigration and Customs Enforcement makes custody decision but families can generally not be held more than 20 days under court order.
Homeland Security’s plan announced Saturday signals a shift to use of pandemic-related authority for immediate expulsion to Haiti without an opportunity to claim asylum, the official said.
The flight plan, while potentially massive in scale, hinges on how Haitians respond. They might have to decide whether to stay put at the risk of being sent back to an impoverished homeland wracked by poverty and political instability or return to Mexico. Unaccompanied children are exempt from fast-track expulsions.
DHS said, “our borders are not open, and people should not make the dangerous journey.”
“Individuals and families are subject to border restrictions, including expulsion,” the agency wrote. “Irregular migration poses a significant threat to the health and welfare of border communities and to the lives of migrants themselves, and should not be attempted.”
US authorities are being severely tested after Democratic President Joe Biden quickly dismantled Trump administration policies that Biden considered cruel or inhumane, most notably one requiring asylum-seekers to remain in Mexico while waiting for US immigration court hearings.
A pandemic-related order to immediately expel migrants without giving them the opportunity to seek asylum that was introduced in March 2020 remains in effect, but unaccompanied children and many families have been exempt. During his first month in office, Biden chose to exempt children traveling alone on humanitarian grounds.
Nicole Phillips, legal director for advocacy group Haitian Bridge Alliance, said Saturday that the US government should process migrants and allow them to apply for asylum, not rush to expel them.
“It really is a humanitarian crisis,” Phillips said. “There needs to be a lot of help there now.”
Mexico’s immigration agency said in a statement Saturday that Mexico has opened a “permanent dialogue” with Haitian government representatives “to address the situation of irregular migratory flows during their entry and transit through Mexico, as well as their assisted return.”
The agency didn’t specify if it was referring to the Haitians in Ciudad Acuña or to the thousands of others in Tapachula, at the Guatemalan border, and the agency didn’t immediately reply to a request for further details.
In August, US authorities stopped migrants nearly 209,000 times at the border, which was close to a 20-year high even though many of the stops involved repeat crossers because there are no legal consequences for being expelled under the pandemic authority.


Pro-Putin party heads for Russian election win after Navalny clampdown

Pro-Putin party heads for Russian election win after Navalny clampdown
Updated 19 September 2021

Pro-Putin party heads for Russian election win after Navalny clampdown

Pro-Putin party heads for Russian election win after Navalny clampdown
  • Russia holds last day of parliamentary election
  • Crackdown crushed Kremlin critics ahead of vote

MOSCOW: Russians vote on Sunday in the final stretch of a three-day parliamentary election that the ruling party is expected to win after a sweeping crackdown that crushed Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny’s movement and barred opponents from the ballot.
The expected win by the ruling United Russia party will be used by the Kremlin as proof of support for President Vladimir Putin despite malaise over years of faltering living standards.
The party that backs Russia’s 68-year-old leader faces a ratings slump, state pollsters say, but remains more popular than its closest rivals on the ballot, the Communist Party and nationalist LDPR party, which often back the Kremlin.
United Russia holds nearly three quarters of the State Duma’s 450 seats. That dominance last year helped the Kremlin pass constitutional reforms that allow Putin to run for two more terms as president after 2024, potentially staying in power until 2036.
“If United Russia manages (to win), our country can expect another five years of poverty, five years of repressions, five lost years,” ran a message to supporters on Navalny’s blog this week.
Navalny’s allies were barred from running after his movement was banned in June as extremist. Other opposition figures allege they were targeted with dirty tricks campaigns or not allowed to compete.
A Communist strawberry tycoon says he was unfairly barred, while a liberal opposition politician in St. Petersburg says two identically-named “spoiler” candidates are running against him to confuse his voters.

Tactical voting
The Kremlin denies a politically-driven crackdown and says individuals are prosecuted for breaking the law. Both it and United Russia deny any role in the registration process for candidates.
Navalny’s camp is promoting a tactical voting ploy against United Russia that authorities want blocked online. Since voting began on Friday, Google, Apple and Telegram messenger have limited some access to the campaign on their platforms. Activists accuse them of caving to pressure.
The election runs until 1800 GMT on Sunday when polling stations close in the European exclave of Kaliningrad. It is the last national vote before the 2024 presidential election. Putin, who turns 69 next month, has not said if he will run.
In Moscow, Navalny’s tactical voting campaign has recommended their supporters vote for politicians like the Communist Party’s Mikhail Lobanov. He said he welcomed the Navalny campaign and criticized United Russia.
“People see the glaring inequalities, they feel the effects of economic policy and the swell of repression and respond with dissatisfaction accordingly,” Lobanov said.
At a polling station in Lobanov’s district, three people told Reuters they had voted for United Russia and three said they had voted Communist, two of them at the behest of Navalny’s team.
One Moscow pensioner who gave his name only as Anatoly said he voted United Russia because he was proud of Russia’s muscular foreign policy and Putin’s efforts to restore what he sees as Russia’s rightful great power status.
“Countries like the United States and Britain more or less respect us now like they respected the Soviet Union in the 1960s and 70s… The Anglo-Saxons only understand the language of force,” he said.
Other voters voiced anger at United Russia at a polling station in the capital of more than 12.5 million where United Russia has fared worse in recent years than in some regions.
“I’m always against United Russia. They haven’t done anything good,” said Roman Malakhov who voted Communist.
The vote is being held alongside elections for regional governors and local legislative assemblies. It is stretched over three days as a COVID-19 precaution. 


Fearful US residents in Afghanistan hiding out from Taliban

Fearful US residents in Afghanistan hiding out from Taliban
Updated 19 September 2021

Fearful US residents in Afghanistan hiding out from Taliban

Fearful US residents in Afghanistan hiding out from Taliban
  • UN human rights chief says there is evidence the Taliban government has not kept its promise to let Americans and Afghans with proper travel documents leave the country and to not retaliate against those who helped the US

Every night in yet another house in Afghanistan’s capital, a US green card-holding couple from California take turns sleeping, with one always awake to watch over their three young children so they can flee if they hear the footsteps of the Taliban.
They’ve moved seven times in two weeks, relying on relatives to take them in and feed them. Their days are an uncomfortable mix of fear and boredom, restricted to a couple of rooms where they read, watch TV and play “The Telephone Game” in which they whisper secrets and pass them on, a diversion for the children that has the added benefit of keeping them quiet.
All of it goes on during the agonizing wait for a call from anybody who can help them get out. A US State Department official contacted them several days ago to tell them they were being assigned a case worker, but they haven’t heard a word since. They tried and failed to get on a flight and now are talking to an international rescue organization.
“We are scared and keep hiding ourselves more and more,” the mother said in a text message to The Associated Press. “Whenever we feel breathless, I pray.”
Through messages, emails and phone conversations with loved ones and rescue groups, AP has pieced together what day-to-day life has been like for some of those left behind after the US military’s chaotic withdrawal — that includes US citizens, permanent US resident green-card holders and visa applicants who aided US troops during the 20-year war.
Those contacted by AP — who are not being identified for their own safety — described a fearful, furtive existence of hiding in houses for weeks, keeping the lights off at night, moving from place to place, and donning baggy clothing and burqas to avoid detection if they absolutely must venture out.
All say they are scared the ruling Taliban will find them, throw them in jail, perhaps even kill them because they are Americans or had worked for the US government. And they are concerned that the Biden administration’s promised efforts to get them out have stalled.
When the phone rang in an apartment in Kabul a few weeks ago, the US green card holder who answered — a truck driver from Texas visiting family — was hopeful it was the US State Department finally responding to his pleas to get him and his parents on a flight out.
Instead, it was the Taliban.
“We won’t hurt you. Let’s meet. Nothing will happen,” the caller said, according to the truck driver’s brother, who lives with him in Texas and spoke to him afterwards. The call included a few ominous words: “We know where you are.”
That was enough to send the man fleeing from the Kabul apartment where he had been staying with his mother, his two teenage brothers and his father, who was in particular danger because he had worked for years for a US contractor overseeing security guards.
“They are hopeless,” said the brother in Texas. “They think, ‘We’re stuck in the apartment and no one is here to help us.’ They’ve been left behind.”
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken testified to Congress this past week that the US government had urged US citizens and green cards holders to leave Afghanistan since March, even offering to pay for their flights.
Blinken said the US government does not track US green card holders in Afghanistan but he estimated several thousand remain in the country, along with about 100 US citizens. He said the US government was still working to get them out.
As of Friday, at least 64 American citizens and 31 green card holders have been evacuated since the US military left last month, according to the State Department. More were possibly aboard a flight from Mazar-e-Sharif on Friday, but the administration did not release figures.
Neither the US nor the Taliban have offered a clear explanation why so few have been evacuated.
That is hardly encouraging to another green card holder from Texas, a grandmother who recently watched from a rooftop as militants pulled up in a half-dozen police cars and Humvees to take over the house across the street.
“The Taliban. The Taliban,” she whispered into the phone to her American son in a Dallas suburb, a conversation the woman recounted to the AP. “The women and kids are screaming. They’re dragging the men to the cars.”
She and her husband, who came to Kabul several months ago to visit relatives, are now terrified that the Taliban will not only uncover their American ties but those of their son back in Texas, who had worked for a US military contractor for years.
Her son, who is also not being named, says he called US embassy officials in Kabul several times before it shut down, filled out all the necessary paperwork, and even enlisted the help of a veteran’s group and members of Congress.
He doesn’t know what more he can do.
“What will we do if they knock on the door?” the 57-year-old mother asked on one of her daily calls. “What will we do?”
“Nothing is going to happen,” replied the son.
Asked in a recent interview if he believed that, the son shot back, exasperated, “What else am I supposed to tell her?”
The Taliban government has promised to let Americans and Afghans with proper travel documents leave the country and to not retaliate against those who helped the United States. But UN human rights chief Michelle Bachelet said there is evidence they are not keeping their word. She warned Monday that the country had entered a “new and perilous phase,” and cited credible reports of reprisal killings of Afghan military members and allegations of the Taliban hunting house-to-house for former government officials and people who cooperated with US military and US companies.
AP reporters in Afghanistan are not aware of any US citizens or green card holders being picked up or arrested by the Taliban. But they have confirmed that several Afghans who worked for the previous government and military were taken in for questioning recently and released.
The California family, which includes a 9-year-old girl and two boys, ages 8 and 6, say they have been on the run for the past two weeks after the Taliban knocked on the door of their relative’s apartment asking about the Americans staying there.
The family moved to Sacramento four years ago after the mother got a special immigrant visa because she worked for US-funded projects in Kabul promoting women’s rights. Now, the mother says both she and her daughter have been wearing burqas each time they move to their next “prison-home.”
The father, who worked as an Uber driver, has been having panic attacks as they wait for help.
“I don’t see the US government stepping in and getting them out anytime soon,” said the children’s elementary school principal, Nate McGill, who has been exchanging daily texts with the family.
Distraction has become the mother’s go-to tool to shield her children from the stress. She quizzes them on what they want to do when they get back to California and what they want to be when they grow up.
Their daughter hopes to become a doctor someday, while their sons say they want to become teachers.
But distraction is not always enough. After a relative told the daughter that the Taliban were taking away small girls, she hid in a room and refused to come out until her dad puffed himself up and said he could beat the Taliban, making her laugh.
The mother smiled, hiding her fear from her daughter, but later texted her principal.
“This life is almost half-death.”


Pakistani Taliban reject amnesty offer unless Islamic law imposed

Pakistani soldiers on patrol. The Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan has accepted responsibility for several high-profile attacks in the country. (AFP/File)
Pakistani soldiers on patrol. The Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan has accepted responsibility for several high-profile attacks in the country. (AFP/File)
Updated 19 September 2021

Pakistani Taliban reject amnesty offer unless Islamic law imposed

Pakistani soldiers on patrol. The Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan has accepted responsibility for several high-profile attacks in the country. (AFP/File)
  • Islamabad says it could pardon the Tehreek-e-Taliban if it renounced violence

PESHWAR: The Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan, a banned militant group, has rejected Islamabad’s amnesty offer unless the government agrees to impose Shariah or Islamic law in the Muslim-majority South Asian nation.

The group is an umbrella organization of various militant groups fighting to overthrow the Pakistan government and is responsible for attacking military and civilian targets, especially along the country’s border with Afghanistan.
Islamabad has been particularly worried about the group’s fighters crossing over from Afghanistan and launching lethal attacks on its territory ever since the Afghan Taliban swept across Afghanistan in a lightning offensive and captured power last month.
Last week, Pakistani President Dr. Arif Alvi and Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi said that the government could pardon the group’s members if they laid down arms, abandoned the group’s ideology and adhered to the country’s constitution.
However, in a statement on Friday, the TTP said: “Pardon is usually offered to those who commit crimes, but we are quite proud of our struggle.”
“We can offer conditional amnesty to our enemy if they promise to implement Shariah in the country,” it added.

Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan spokesman Shahidullah Shahid, right, speaks during a press conference at an undisclosed location in Pakistan on Feb. 21, 2014. (AFP)

Adnan Bhittani, a senior security analyst based in the northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, told Arab News that the recent release of the group’s fighters from Afghan prisons after the Taliban’s  capture of Kabul had emboldened the armed faction to increase its attacks in Pakistan.
“TTP has up to 6,000 fighters who can create mayhem in different parts of Pakistan,” he said.
So far, there has been no response from the Pakistan government to the group’s statement.

FASTFACT

The Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan is an umbrella organization of various militant groups fighting to overthrow the Pakistan government and is responsible for attacking military and civilian targets, especially along the country’s border with Afghanistan.

However, senior opposition leader, Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, criticized the government’s “policy of appeasement” in a Twitter post, saying it would come to haunt the country in the future.
Since returning to power, the Afghan Taliban has repeatedly assured Pakistan it will not allow its territory to be used by militants to attack any nation.
Thousands of Pakistanis have been killed in violence launched by the militant group in the past two decades.
The group has accepted responsibility for several high-profile attacks in Pakistan, including an attack on an army-run school in Peshawar in which 134 children were killed in 2014 and an assassination attempt on activist and Nobel prize winner Malala Yousafzai when she was a schoolgirl.