Joe Biden says ‘hi’ to North Korea’s Kim Jong Un, despite weapons test fears

Joe Biden says ‘hi’ to North Korea’s Kim Jong Un, despite weapons test fears
President Joe Biden’s goal to reinforce US leadership across Asia has been dogged by fears nuclear-armed North Korea could conduct a weapons test while he is in the region. (AFP)
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Updated 22 May 2022

Joe Biden says ‘hi’ to North Korea’s Kim Jong Un, despite weapons test fears

Joe Biden says ‘hi’ to North Korea’s Kim Jong Un, despite weapons test fears
  • Joe Biden ‘not concerned’ about Pyongyang’s possible weapons test
  • US President has used his visit to call for the democratic allies to deepen ties

SEOUL: President Joe Biden had a short message for North Korea’s Kim Jong Un: “Hello. Period.” he told reporters Sunday in Seoul, before heading to Japan for the second leg of his Asia trip which has been overshadowed by fears of a nuclear test by Pyongyang.
Biden is leaving South Korea, after spending two days with newly elected President Yoon Suk-yeol, with the pair discussing possibly expanding joint military exercises to counter Kim Jong Un’s sabre-rattling.
His goal to reinforce US leadership across Asia has been dogged by fears the unpredictable, nuclear-armed North could conduct a weapons test while Biden is in the region, but on his last day in Seoul, he told reporters he had a short message for Kim: “Hello. Period.”
He said he was “not concerned” about Pyongyang’s possible weapons test, saying: “We are prepared for anything North Korea does.”
Early Sunday, Biden met with the chairman of Hyundai to celebrate a decision by the auto giant to invest $5.5 billion in an electric vehicle plant in the southern US state of Georgia.
He will also meet US and South Korean troops with Yoon, a schedule that a senior White House official said was able to “reflect the truly integrated nature” of the countries’ economic and military alliance.
Biden has used his visit to call for the democratic allies to deepen ties, saying at a joint press conference with Yoon that Asia was a key battleground in the global “competition between democracies and autocracies.”
“We talked in some length about the need for us to make this larger than just the United States, Japan, and Korea, but the entire Pacific and the South Pacific and Indo-Pacific. I think this is an opportunity,” Biden said.
While China is the main US rival in that struggle, Biden illustrated the acute challenge from Russia when he signed a $40 billion aid bill late Saturday to help Ukraine fight the invasion by Moscow’s forces.
The bill, passed earlier by Congress, was flown to Seoul so that Biden could make it law without having to wait for his return to Washington late next Tuesday.
In Japan, Biden will meet with Prime Minister Fumio Kishida and Emperor Naruhito on Monday ahead of Tuesday’s Quad summit, bringing together the leaders of Australia, India, Japan and the United States.
Also on Monday, Biden will unveil a major new US initiative for regional trade, the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework for Prosperity.
Biden and Yoon said in a statement Saturday that “considering the evolving threat” from North Korea, they “agree to initiate discussions to expand the scope and scale of combined military exercises and training on and around the Korean peninsula.”
The possible beefing up of joint US-South Korean military exercises comes in response to North Korea’s blitz of sanctions-busting weapons tests this year.
Joint exercises had been scaled back due to COVID-19 and in order for Biden and Yoon’s predecessors, Donald Trump and Moon Jae-in, to embark on a round of high-profile but ultimately unsuccessful diplomacy with the North.
In contrast to the dovish Moon, Yoon said he and Biden discussed possible “joint drills to prepare for a nuclear attack” and called for more tactical US assets to be deployed to the region.
Any build-up of forces or expansion of US-South Korea joint military exercises would likely enrage Pyongyang, which views the joint drills as rehearsals for invasion.


’Stop interfering in Afghanistan’, says Taliban leader in rare appearance

’Stop interfering in Afghanistan’, says Taliban leader in rare appearance
Updated 10 sec ago

’Stop interfering in Afghanistan’, says Taliban leader in rare appearance

’Stop interfering in Afghanistan’, says Taliban leader in rare appearance
KABUL: Taliban’s reclusive supreme leader Hibatullah Akhundzada called Friday for the world to stop telling them how to run Afghanistan, insisting sharia law was the only model for a successful Islamic state.
Akhundzada, who has not been filmed or photographed in public since the Taliban returned to power in August, was addressing a major gathering of religious scholars in the Afghan capital called to rubber-stamp the hard-line Islamist group’s rule.
Over 3,000 clerics have gathered in Kabul since Thursday for the three-day men-only meeting, and Akhundzada’s appearance had been rumored for days — although media are barred from covering the event.
“Why is the world interfering in our affairs?” he asked in an hour-long speech broadcast by state radio.
“They say ‘why don’t you do this, why don’t you do that?’ Why does the world interfere in our work?“
Akhundzada rarely leaves Kandahar, the Taliban’s birthplace and spiritual heartland, and apart from one undated photograph and several audio recordings of speeches, has almost no digital footprint.
But analysts say the former Sharia court judge has an iron grip on the movement and he bears the title “Commander of the Faithful.”
His arrival at the meeting hall was greeted with cheers and chants, including “Long live the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan,” the Taliban’s name for the country.
Akhundzada’s appearance comes a week after a powerful earthquake struck the east of the country, killing over 1,000 people and leaving tens of thousands homeless.
No women are attending the clerics’ meeting, but a Taliban source told AFP this week that thorny issues such as girls’ education — which has divided opinion in the movement — would be discussed.
Akhundzada did not mention the subject in his speech, which was confined largely to telling the faithful to strictly observe Islamic principles in life and governance.
Since the Taliban’s return, secondary school girls have been barred from education and women dismissed from government jobs, forbidden from traveling alone, and ordered to dress in clothing that covers everything but their faces.
They have also outlawed playing non-religious music, banned the portrayal of human figures in advertising, ordered TV channels to stop showing movies and soap operas featuring uncovered women, and told men they should dress in traditional garb and grow their beards.
Akhundzada said the Taliban had won victory for Afghanistan, but it was up to the “ulema” — the religious scholars — to advise the new rulers on how to properly implement sharia law.
“The sharia system comes under two parts — scholars and rulers,” he said.
“If scholars do not advise authorities to do good, or the rulers close the doors against the scholars, then we will have not an Islamic system.”
Believed to be in his 70s, Akhundzada spoke in strong measured tones, occasionally coughing or clearing his throat.
He warned that non-Muslim nations would always be opposed to a pure Islamic state, so the faithful had to endure hardships to get what they wanted.
“You have to compete, you have to endure hardships... the present world will not easily accept you implementing the Islamic system,” he said.
Women’s rights activists have slammed their lack of participation.
“Women should be part of the decisions about their fate,” Razia Barakzai told AFP Thursday.
“Life has been taken away from Afghan women.”
The Taliban have thrown a dense security blanket over the capital for the meeting, but on Thursday two gunmen were shot dead near the venue.

Tear gas fired as Sudan anti-coup protests flare again

Tear gas fired as Sudan anti-coup protests flare again
Updated 38 min 22 sec ago

Tear gas fired as Sudan anti-coup protests flare again

Tear gas fired as Sudan anti-coup protests flare again
  • Sudan’s police meanwhile accused protesters of wounding 96 police and 129 military officers
  • The “violence needs to end,” demanded UN special representative Volker Perthes

KHARTOUM: Sudanese security forces fired tear gas Friday at hundreds of protesters who rallied for a second day in a row in the capital against last year’s military coup, witnesses said.
Demonstrators massed again near the presidential palace in Khartoum a day after at least nine people were killed during mass rallies against the military takeover led by army chief Abdel Fattah Al-Burhan last October.
“The people want to bring down Burhan,” activists chanted while others, carrying photos of people killed in protest-related violence, yelled: “We call for retribution!“
The death toll from protest-related violence has reached 113 since the coup, with the latest fatality reported Friday after a protester died from wounds sustained at a June 24 protest, according to pro-democracy medics.
Sudan’s police meanwhile accused protesters of wounding 96 police and 129 military officers, “some critically,” on Thursday, as well as damaging vehicles and setting fires.
Thursday’s crackdown defied calls by the international community urging Sudanese authorities to refrain from violence.
The “violence needs to end,” demanded UN special representative Volker Perthes.
US senior diplomat Lucy Tamlyn said she was “deeply concerned” by the reported protester deaths and the “use of live fire by authorities and aggression against medical professionals.”
Last year’s coup plunged Sudan into deepening turmoil which has seen rising consumer prices and life-threatening food shortages and sparked near-weekly protests as well as ethnic clashes.
The United Nations, African Union and regional bloc IGAD have tried to facilitate talks between the generals and civilians, but they have been boycotted by the main civilian factions.
On Friday, the three bodies jointly condemned the violence and “the use of excessive force by security forces and lack of accountability for such actions, despite repeated commitments by authorities.”
The protests Thursday came on the anniversary of a 1989 coup that toppled Sudan’s last elected civilian government and ushered in three decades of iron-fisted rule by Islamist-backed General Omar Al-Bashir.
It was also the anniversary of 2019 protests demanding that the generals who had ousted Bashir in a palace coup earlier that year cede power to civilians.
Those protests led to the formation of the civilian-military transitional government that was toppled in last year’s coup.


North Korea suggests balloons flown from South brought COVID-19

North Korea suggests balloons flown from South brought COVID-19
Updated 01 July 2022

North Korea suggests balloons flown from South brought COVID-19

North Korea suggests balloons flown from South brought COVID-19
  • In what it called “an emergency instruction,” the epidemic prevention center ordered officials to “to vigilantly deal with alien things coming by wind and other climate phenomena and balloons” along the border

SEOUL: North Korea suggested Friday its COVID-19 outbreak began in people who had contact with balloons flown from South Korea — a highly questionable claim that appeared to be an attempt to hold its rival responsible amid increasing tensions.
Activists for years have flown balloons across the border to distribute hundreds of thousands of propaganda leaflets critical of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, and North Korea has often expressed fury at the activists and at South Korea’s leadership for not stopping them.
Global health authorities say the coronavirus is spread by people in close contact who inhale airborne droplets and it’s more likely to occur in enclosed, poorly ventilated spaces than outdoors. South Korea’s Unification Ministry said there was no chance South Korean balloons might have spread the virus to North Korea.
Ties between the Koreas remain strained amid a long-running stalemate in US-led diplomacy on persuading North Korea to abandon its nuclear ambitions in return for economic and political benefits.
The state media report said North Korea’s epidemic prevention center had found infection clusters in the town of Ipho near the southeastern border and that some Ipho residents with feverish symptoms traveled to Pyongyang. The center said an 18-year-old soldier and a 5-year kindergartener had contact with “alien things” in the town in early April and later tested positive for the omicron variant.
In what it called “an emergency instruction,” the epidemic prevention center ordered officials to “to vigilantly deal with alien things coming by wind and other climate phenomena and balloons” along the border and trace their sources to the last. It also stressed that anyone finding “alien things” must notify authorities immediately so they could be removed.
The reports did not specify what the “alien things” were. But laying the blame on things flown across the border likely is a way to repeat its objections to the ballooning activities of North Korean defectors and activists in South Korea.
Leafletting campaigns were largely halted after South Korea’s previous liberal government passed a law criminalizing them, and there were no public balloon attempts made in early April.
An activist who is standing trial for past activities flew balloons carrying propaganda leaflets across the border in late April after halting them for a year. Park Sang-hak floated balloons twice in June, switching the cargo on those attempts to COVID-19 relief items such as masks and painkillers.
Police are still investigating the recent leafleting activities by the activist, Cha Duck Chul, a deputy spokesperson at the South’s Unification Ministry, told reporters Friday.
Cha also said the consensus among South Korean health officials and World Health Organization experts is that infections via contact with the virus on the surface of materials is virtually impossible.
Analyst Cheong Seong-Chang at South Korea’s Sejong Institute said North Korea wants its people to believe the coronavirus originated from leaflets, US dollars or other materials carried across the border by the balloons.
Cheong said North Korea will likely sternly punish anyone taking such South Korean items covertly. He said North Korea could also try to shoot down incoming South Korean balloons, a move that would prompt South Korea to return fire and would sharply escalate animosities between the countries.
North Korea is infuriated by the leafletting campaign because it’s designed to undermine Kim’s authoritarian rule over a population that has little access to outside information. In 2014, North Korea fired at propaganda balloons flying toward its territory and South Korea returned fire, though there were no casualties.
Laying blame on objects flown across the inter-Korean border contradicts the outside view that the virus spread after North Korea briefly reopened its northern border with China to freight traffic in January and it surged further following a military parade and other events in Pyongyang in April.
After maintaining a widely disputed claim to be coronavirus-free for more than two years, North Korea on May 12 admitted to the COVID-19 outbreak, saying an unspecified number of people in Pyongyang tested positive for the omicron variant.
North Korea has since reported about 4.7 million fever cases out of its 26 million population but only identified a fraction of them as COVID-19. It says 73 people have died, an extremely low fatality rate. Both figures are believed to be manipulated by North Korea to keep its people vigilant against the virus and prevent any political damage to Kim.


China not giving material support for Russia’s war in Ukraine — US Commerce Department

China not giving material support for Russia’s war in Ukraine — US Commerce Department
Updated 01 July 2022

China not giving material support for Russia’s war in Ukraine — US Commerce Department

China not giving material support for Russia’s war in Ukraine — US Commerce Department
  • While saying it has not provided military assistance to Russia, China vowed to take “necessary measures” to protect the rights of its companies

WASHINGTON: The United States has not seen China evade sanctions or provide military equipment to Russia, a senior US official said on Thursday, adding that enforcement measures taken earlier in the week targeted certain Chinese companies, not the government.
The Commerce Department added five companies in China to a trade blacklist on Tuesday for allegedly supporting Russia’s military and defense industrial base as Moscow carries out its war in Ukraine.
US officials have warned of consequences, including sanctions, should China offer material support for Russia’s war effort, but have consistently said they have yet to detect overt Chinese military and economic backing of Moscow.
“China is not providing material support. This is normal course-of-business enforcement action against entities that have been backfilling for Russia,” a senior Biden administration official told Reuters, referring to the Commerce blacklist.
“We have not seen the PRC (People’s Republic of China) engage in systematic evasion or provide military equipment to Russia,” the official said on condition of anonymity.
The United States has set out with allies to punish Russian President Vladimir Putin for the invasion, which Moscow calls a “special operation,” by sanctioning a raft of Russian companies and oligarchs and adding others to a trade blacklist.
China has refused to condemn Russia’s actions and has criticized the sweeping Western sanctions on Moscow. Beijing also says that it has not provided military assistance to Russia or Ukraine, but that it would take “necessary measures” to protect the rights of its companies.
The Commerce Department action means US suppliers need a license before they can ship items to listed companies. But the department also targeted dozens of other entities, including some in allied countries, such as the United Kingdom and Lithuania. 

 

 


Russian missile strike kills at least 18 in Odessa: Ukrainian officials

Russian missile strike kills at least 18 in Odessa: Ukrainian officials
Updated 42 min 18 sec ago

Russian missile strike kills at least 18 in Odessa: Ukrainian officials

Russian missile strike kills at least 18 in Odessa: Ukrainian officials
  • Three people, including a child, were killed and one wounded in the recreation center strike

Eighteen people were killed Friday in missile strikes on an apartment building and recreation center in southern Ukraine’s Odessa region, authorities said.
Fourteen were killed and 30 wounded in the strike on a nine-story apartment block, the emergency services said on Telegram.
Seven people were rescued from the rubble of the building, including three children, they said.
Three people, including a child, were killed and one wounded in the recreation center strike, the officials said.
Odessa military administration spokesman Sergiy Bratchuk said the missiles were fired by aircraft that flew in from the Black Sea.
The strikes took place in the Bilgorod-Dnistrovsky district.
They came days after a Russian strike destroyed a shopping center in Kremenchuk, in central Ukraine, killing at least 18 civilians.
Russian President Vladimir Putin has denied Moscow’s forces were responsible.
The southern region of Odessa is a strategic flashpoint, as it is home to Ukraine’s historic port city of the same name.
On Thursday, Russian troops abandoned their positions on Snake Island, off the coast of Odessa, which had become a symbol of Ukrainian resistance in the first days of the war.