North Korea says new ICBM will curb ‘dangerous’ US; Washington seeks new sanctions

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un (C) walking near a new type inter-continental ballistic missile before its test launch in an undisclosed location in North Korea. (AFP file photo)
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un (C) walking near a new type inter-continental ballistic missile before its test launch in an undisclosed location in North Korea. (AFP file photo)
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Updated 26 March 2022

North Korea says new ICBM will curb ‘dangerous’ US; Washington seeks new sanctions

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un (C) walking near a new type inter-continental ballistic missile before its test launch in an undisclosed location in North Korea. (AFP file photo)
  • The leaders of the Group of Seven industrialized nations and the European Union condemned the test as a “reckless” threat to peace and security and a danger to international civil aviation and maritime navigation

SEOUL/UNITED NATIONS: North Korea said on Friday its launch of a big new intercontinental ballistic missile this week was designed to demonstrate the might of its nuclear force and deter any US military moves.
The United States responded by saying it would push the UN Security Council to “update and strengthen” sanctions on North Korea over its “increasingly dangerous provocations,” a move Pyongyang’s allies China and Russia are likely to oppose.
Thursday’s launch was the first full ICBM test by nuclear-armed North Korea since 2017. Flight data indicated the missile flew higher and for a longer period than any of North Korea’s previous tests before crashing into the sea west of Japan.
What North Korea calls the Hwasong-17 would be the largest liquid-fueled missile ever launched by any country from a road-mobile launcher, analysts say.
Its range and size suggest North Korea plans to tip it with multiple warheads that could hit several targets or with decoys to confuse missile defenses, they say.
The leaders of the Group of Seven industrialized nations and the European Union condemned the test as a “reckless” threat to peace and security and a danger to international civil aviation and maritime navigation. They said it demanded a united response.
North Korea’s return to testing weapons experts believe are capable of striking the United States is an unwelcome additional challenge to President Joe Biden as he responds to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
North Korea’s last ICBM launches and nuclear tests in 2017 prompted UN Security Council sanctions, but the United States and its allies are at odds with Russia and China over the Ukraine war, making such a response more difficult.
US Ambassador to the United Nations Linda Thomas-Greenfield nevertheless announced a new sanctions push at a meeting of the 15-member Security Council on Friday.
North Korea’s nuclear tests and ballistic missile launches have long been banned by the Security Council and subjected to sanctions that have been strengthened over the years.
However, while they backed sanctions in 2017, China and Russia have since pushed for their easing to encourage North Korea to return to denuclearization talks with the United States and others.
“Now is not the time to end our sanctions, now is the time to enforce them,” Thomas-Greenfield said.
“Offering sanctions relief, without substantive diplomatic progress, would only funnel more revenue to the regime and accelerate the realization of its WMD (weapons of mass destruction) and ballistic-weapons goals.”
China’s UN Ambassador Zhang Jun told the council “no party should take any action that would lead to greater tensions” and added, referring to North Korea by the initials of its official name: “The US must not continue to brush aside the DPRK’s justified demands. It should offer an attractive proposal to pave the way for early resumed dialogue.”
Russia’s RIA news agency earlier quoted the Russian foreign ministry as saying that Russia and China had agreed to coordinate closely on the Korean situation.
“Concern was expressed over the latest developments in the sub-region” at a meeting between Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Igor Morgulov and China’s representative for the Korean Peninsula, it said, adding that they emphasised the need to step up efforts toward fair political and diplomatic solutions.
North Korean state media said leader Kim Jong Un ordered the test because of “daily-escalating military tension in and around the Korean peninsula” and the “inevitability of the long-standing confrontation with the US imperialists accompanied by the danger of a nuclear war.”
“The strategic forces ... are fully ready to thoroughly curb and contain any dangerous military attempts of the US imperialists,” Kim said while overseeing the launch.
It came after the election of a new, conservative South Korean administration that has pledged a more muscular military strategy toward North Korea.
In a call with Chinese President Xi Jinping after the launch, South Korean President-elect Yoon Suk-yeol called for close coordination on North Korea’s complete denuclearization, his office said. Xi said Beijing and Seoul should bolster mutual political trust, Chinese state media said.
China urged restraint on “all sides” after the test.

’STRIKING DEMONSTRATION’
Washington announced its own sanctions on Thursday on two Russian companies, a Russian and a North Korean individual, and North Korea’s Second Academy of Natural Science Foreign Affairs Bureau for transferring sensitive items to North Korea’s missile program.
Kim said the test would help convince the world of the power of his strategic forces.
“Any forces should be made to be well aware of the fact that they will have to pay a very dear price before daring to attempt to infringe upon the security of our country,” he said.
North Korean state media showed a massive missile, painted black with a white nosecone, rising on a column of flame from a launch vehicle.
It said the Hwasong-17 flew for 1,090 km (680 miles) to an altitude of 6,248.5 km (3,905 miles) and hit a target in the sea. Similar numbers were reported by Japan and South Korea.
Seoul-based website NK Pro said discrepancies in the imagery and video on state media suggested it may have been shot on different dates, raising the possibility that North Korea was hiding details.
Pyongyang never acknowledged what South Korea said was a failed launch from the same airport last week, and on Thursday South Korea’s Yonhap news agency cited unnamed officials who said they were examining whether the latest test may have been a smaller Hwasong-15 ICBM, which was test fired in November 2017.
Officials in Seoul and Washington previously said launches on Feb. 27 and March 5 involved parts of the Hwasong-17 ICBM system, likely in preparation for a full test.
North Korea called Thursday’s test a “striking demonstration of great military muscle.”
Kim, shown in video at the launch site dressed in a leather jacket and sunglasses, called it a “miraculous” and “priceless” victory for the Korean people.


The Afghanistan disaster movie continues to roll, one year after US withdrawal

The Afghanistan disaster movie continues to roll, one year after US withdrawal
Updated 20 sec ago

The Afghanistan disaster movie continues to roll, one year after US withdrawal

The Afghanistan disaster movie continues to roll, one year after US withdrawal
  • Aid-dependent economy remains in free fall since the Taliban takeover of the war-ravaged country
  • Prices of food and other essentials have soared as drought compounds financial collapse

KABUL: When the Taliban captured Kabul on Aug. 15, 2021, amid the withdrawal of US-led forces from Afghanistan, the group’s stunning return to power marked the end of two decades of warfare, which had killed tens of thousands of Afghans on their own soil. 

One year on, with the country pauperized and isolated on the world stage under its new leadership, life for ordinary Afghans has changed — largely for the worse.

During their first stint in power, from 1996 until late-2001, the Taliban declared an Islamic emirate, imposing a strict interpretation of Islamic law, enforced with brutal public punishments and executions. 

Women and girls were removed from public life, prevented from working or receiving an education, and even barred from leaving the house without the all-enveloping niqab and a male relative to chaperone them.

In Oct. 2001, US-led forces invaded Afghanistan and removed the Taliban from power, accusing the group of sheltering Osama bin Laden, the Al-Qaeda leader deemed responsible for the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks on the US that killed almost 3,000 people.

Edi Maa holding her baby receiving treatment for malnutrition at a Doctors Without Borders (MSF) nutrition centre in Herat. (AFP)

What followed were 20 blood-soaked years of fighting between the NATO-backed Afghan national forces and Taliban guerrilla fighters intent on retaking power.

While under the Western-backed administration, Afghanistan made progress with the emergence of independent media and a growing number of girls going to school and university. 

However, in many regions beyond the big cities, Afghans knew only war, depriving them of the many development projects implemented elsewhere by foreign donors.

Now that US-led forces have withdrawn and the Taliban has traded guerrilla warfare for the day-to-day running of the country, security has greatly improved.

During their first stint in power, from 1996 until late-2001, the Taliban declared an Islamic emirate, imposing a strict interpretation of Islamic law, enforced with brutal public punishments and executions. (AFP)

“We only saw war in the past several years. Every day, we lived in fear. Now it’s calm and we feel safe,” Mohammad Khalil, a 69-year-old farmer in northwest Balkh province, told Arab News. “We can finally breathe.”

But the uneasy peace has come at a cost.

Afghanistan’s aid-dependent economy has been in free fall since the Taliban returned to power. Billions of dollars in foreign assistance have been suspended and some $9.5 billion in Afghan central bank assets parked overseas have been frozen.

Denied international recognition, with aid suspended and the financial system in paralysis, the UN says that Afghanistan faces humanitarian catastrophe. About 20 percent of the country’s 38 million population are already on the brink of famine.

Afghanistan: One year since the Taliban takeover

Aug. 15, 2021 - Taliban campaign culminates with the fall of Kabul.

Aug. 30 - The last US troops depart Kabul airport after evacuating more than 120,000 people over 17 days.

September - A new interim government is unveiled. The Taliban bring back the feared religious police.

October - More than 120 people are killed in two Daesh-claimed mosque blasts in Kandahar and Kunduz.

Jan. 2022 - Deprived of aid, Afghanistan is plunged into a deep economic and humanitarian crisis.

March - The Taliban block secondary school girls from returning to class. Government employees must grow beards.

May - Women and girls are ordered to wear the hijab and cover their faces when in public. Women are banned from making long-distance journeys alone.

June - More than 1,000 people killed and thousands left homeless in a massive earthquake.

August - The US announces the killing of Al-Qaeda leader Ayman Al-Zawahiri in a drone strike on his Kabul hideout.

The price of essential commodities has soared as the value of the Afghan currency has plummeted. A continuing drought has further aggravated the situation in rural areas.

The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies estimates about 70 percent of Afghan families are unable to meet their basic food needs.

“Most of the time we eat bread and drink tea or just water. We can’t get meat, fruit or even vegetables for the children. Only a few people have goats or cows to feed the children with milk,” Khalil said.

In the capital, Kabul, food is widely available, but few can afford a vaied and nutritious diet.

“There are plenty of food items in the market, but we don’t have the money to buy them,” Mohammad Barat, a 52-year-old daily wage earner, told Arab News.

The looming catastrophe is not only one of shocking levels of poverty, but also lost hope and opportunities.

Tens of thousands of Afghans fled the country over several chaotic days last August, when US forces and their coalition partners hastily airlifted Afghans from Kabul airport. Many others, including professionals, have since followed in their footsteps.

“Doctors are leaving, engineers are leaving, professors and experts are also leaving the country,” Abdul Hamid, a student at Kabul University, told Arab News. “There’s no hope for a better future.”

Those who worked for the deposed Western-backed administration have been removed from public life, particularly women, who are now forced to wear face coverings, banned from making long-distance journeys alone, and prevented from working in most sectors beyond health and education.

Women face a growing number of restrictions in their daily lives; right, Taliban fighters in Kandahar celebrate the US withdrawal. (AFP)

Education, too, has been strictly limited for women, even though allowing girls into schools and colleges has been one of the international community’s core demands since the Taliban retook control of the country.

In mid-March, after months of uncertainty, the Taliban said that they would allow girls to return to school. However, when they arrived at schools around the country to resume studies, those above the age of 13 were ordered to return home.

In a last-minute decision, the Taliban had announced that high schools would remain closed for girls until a plan was ready to receive them in accordance with Islamic law.

Almost half a year later, teenage girls fear they will not return to the classroom anytime soon.

“There’s no reason for banning girls from school,” Amal, an 11th grade student at Rabia Balkhi High School in Kabul, told Arab News. “They just don’t want us to get an education.”

Now that US-led forces have withdrawn and the Taliban has traded guerrilla warfare for the day-to-day running of the country, security has greatly improved. (AFP)

Despite repeated claims by the predominantly Pashtun, Islamic fundamentalist group that time and experience have softened its rough edges, the streets of Kabul increasingly resemble the Taliban-governed pre-2002 era.

Since the restoration of the Ministry for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice, which enforces the group’s austere interpretation of Islam, traditional clothing, turbans and burqas have replaced suits and jeans, which only a year ago had been considered normal attire in the Afghan capital.

Key symbols of the nation’s identity are also changing, with the white and black banner of the Taliban now appearing on government buildings and in public spaces, gradually replacing Afghanistan’s tricolor, despite earlier pledges it would not be changed.  

For some, the replacement of the old national flag is more than symbolic, and is indicative of the Taliban’s hijacking of the country. 

“It doesn’t represent any government or regime. The Taliban could keep both,” Shah Rahim, a 43-year-old resident of Kabul, told Arab News. 

“The flag is a representation of our nation, our values and our history.”


Lebanese antiques dealer who exposed smuggling network accused of artifact looting

Lebanese antiques dealer who exposed smuggling network accused of artifact looting
Updated 13 August 2022

Lebanese antiques dealer who exposed smuggling network accused of artifact looting

Lebanese antiques dealer who exposed smuggling network accused of artifact looting
  • Lofti sold and lent items to Metropolitan Museum of Art and kept other artifacts in an apartment located across the road

LONDON: An antiques dealer from Lebanon has been accused of smuggling looted artifacts worth millions of dollars into the US.

Georges Lofti, 81, who previously assisted the Antiquities Trafficking Unit in exposing an Egyptian golden coffin on display at the Metropolitan Museum of Art as having been looted during unrest in Egypt in 2011, is also accused by law enforcement agents of using the agency to give stolen items a “sheen of legitimacy,” The Times reported.

Lofti sold and lent items to the museum and kept other artifacts in an apartment located across the road, the report added.

He often invited ATU agents to his storage space, believing that they would not suspect the antiquities kept inside were stolen, according to a report by The New York Times.

The ATU were granted an arrest warrant for Lotfi this week on suspicion of stealing 24 items and tricking investigators into giving the artifacts a stamp of approval.

According to legal documents attached to the warrant, ATU security agent Robert Mancene confirmed that Lotfi tipped them off regarding the gold Coffin of Nedjemankh, which the museum bought for $4 million in 2017 and put on display. Following Lofti's tipoff, the coffin was returned in 2019.

“Over the years (Lotfi) has provided me with detailed information about looting practices globally,” Mancene said. The dealer, described by Mancene as “a valuable source of information,” also passed on details about global looters and traffickers, according to the report.

One of the stolen items Lofti is accused of smuggling into the US is the “Palmyra Stone” — a limestone sculpture from Syria depicting a couple with three children worth an estimated $750,000 — which investigators said Lofti did not purchase from a dealer in 1982 as he had claimed, but instead obtained from a smuggler in 2010 or 2011.

Several mosaics, one valued at $2.5 million and another at $500,000, were also among the items Lofti is alleged to have looted.

Lofti, who said that he was shocked by the allegations and denies any wrongdoing, told The New York Times: “I was fighting with them for 10 years to stop illicit trading and they turned against me.”


Ukrainian minister says Russia blocking access to medicines

Ukrainian minister says Russia blocking access to medicines
Updated 13 August 2022

Ukrainian minister says Russia blocking access to medicines

Ukrainian minister says Russia blocking access to medicines
  • Ukrainian Health Minister Viktor Liashko said Russian authorities repeatedly have blocked efforts to provide state-subsidized drugs to people in occupied cities, towns and villages

KYIV: Ukraine’s health minister has accused Russian authorities of committing a crime against humanity by blocking access to affordable medicines in areas its forces have occupied since invading the country 5 1/2 months ago.
In an interview with The Associated Press, Ukrainian Health Minister Viktor Liashko said Russian authorities repeatedly have blocked efforts to provide state-subsidized drugs to people in occupied cities, towns and villages.
“Throughout the entire six months of war, Russia has not (allowed) proper humanitarian corridors so we could provide our own medicines to the patients that need them,” Liashko said, speaking at the Health Ministry in Kyiv late Friday.
“We believe that these actions are being taken with intent by Russia, and we consider them to be crimes against humanity and war crimes that will be documented and will be recognized,” the minister said.
The Ukrainian government has a program that provides medications to people with cancer and chronic health conditions. The destruction of hospitals and infrastructure along with the displacement of an estimated 7 million people inside the country also have interfered with other forms of treatment, according to United Nations and Ukrainian officials.
The war in Ukraine has caused severe disruptions to the country’s state-run health service, which was undergoing major reforms, largely in response to the coronavirus pandemic, when Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered his troops to invade on Feb. 24.
The World Health Organization said it recorded 445 attacks on hospitals and other health care facilities as of Aug. 11 that directly resulted in 86 deaths and 105 injuries.
But Liashko said the secondary effects were far more severe.
“When roads and bridges have been damaged in areas now controlled by the Ukrainian forces... it is difficult to get someone who had a heart attack or a stroke to the hospital,” he said. “Sometimes, we can’t make it in time, the ambulance can’t get there in time. That’s why war causes many more casualties (than those killed in the fighting). It’s a number that cannot be calculated.”


Two more ships depart from Ukraine — Turkey’s defense ministry

Two more ships depart from Ukraine — Turkey’s defense ministry
Updated 13 August 2022

Two more ships depart from Ukraine — Turkey’s defense ministry

Two more ships depart from Ukraine — Turkey’s defense ministry
ANKARA: Two more ships left from Ukraine’s Black Sea ports on Saturday, Turkey’s defense ministry said, bringing the total number of ships to depart the country under a UN-brokered deal to 16.
Barbados-flagged Fulmar S left Ukraine’s Chornomorsk port, carrying 12,000 tons of corn to Turkey’s southern Iskenderun province, it said. The Marshall Island-flagged Thoe departed from the same port and headed to Turkey’s Tekirdag, carrying 3,000 tons of sunflower seeds.
The statement added that another ship would depart from Turkey on Saturday to Ukraine to buy grains.

Taliban violently disperse rare women’s protest in Kabul

Taliban violently disperse rare women’s protest in Kabul
Updated 13 August 2022

Taliban violently disperse rare women’s protest in Kabul

Taliban violently disperse rare women’s protest in Kabul
  • Some women protesters who took refuge in nearby shops were chased and beaten by Taliban fighters with their rifle butts

KABUL: Taliban fighters beat women protesters and fired into the air on Saturday as they violently dispersed a rare rally in the Afghan capital, days ahead of the first anniversary of the hard-line Islamists’ return to power.
Since seizing power on August 15 last year, the Taliban have rolled back the marginal gains made by women during the two decades of US intervention in Afghanistan.
About 40 women — chanting “Bread, work and freedom” — marched in front of the education ministry building in Kabul, before the fighters dispersed them by firing their guns into the air, an AFP correspondent reported.
Some women protesters who took refuge in nearby shops were chased and beaten by Taliban fighters with their rifle butts.
The protesters carried a banner which read “August 15 is a black day” as they demanded rights to work and political participation.
“Justice, justice. We’re fed up with ignorance,” chanted the protesters, many of them not wearing face veils, before they dispersed.
Some journalists covering the protest — the first women’s rally in months — were also beaten by the Taliban fighters.
After seizing power, the Taliban had promised a softer version of the harsh Islamist rule that characterised their first stint in power from 1996 to 2001.
But many restrictions have already been imposed.
Tens of thousands of girls have been shut out of secondary schools, while women have been barred from returning to many government jobs.
Women have also been banned from traveling alone on long trips, and can only visit public gardens and parks in the capital on days separate from men.
In May, the country’s supreme leader and chief of the Taliban, Hibatullah Azkhundzada, even ordered women to fully cover themselves in public, including their faces — ideally with an all-encompassing burqa.
Some Afghan women initially pushed back against the curbs, holding small protests.
But the Taliban soon rounded up the ringleaders, holding them incommunicado while denying they had been detained.