North Korea: Kim Jong Un attends large funeral amid COVID-19 worry

North Korea: Kim Jong Un attends large funeral amid COVID-19 worry
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un carries the casket during the state funeral for Marshal of the Korean People’s Army Hyon Chol Hae in Pyongyang on May 22, 2022. (KCNA via Reuters)
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Updated 23 May 2022

North Korea: Kim Jong Un attends large funeral amid COVID-19 worry

North Korea: Kim Jong Un attends large funeral amid COVID-19 worry
  • Kim often arranges big funerals for late senior officials loyal to his ruling family
  • State media said Monday that 2.8 million people have fallen ill due to an unidentified fever

SEOUL: A huge number of North Koreans including leader Kim Jong Un attended a funeral for a top official, state media reported Monday, as the country maintained the much-disputed claim that its suspected coronavirus outbreak is subsiding.
Since admitting earlier this month to an outbreak of the highly contagious omicron variant, North Korea has only stated how many people have fevers daily and identified just a fraction of the cases as COVID-19. Its state media said Monday that 2.8 million people have fallen ill due to an unidentified fever but only 68 of them died since late April, an extremely low fatality rate if the illness is COVID-19 as suspected.
North Korea has limited testing capability for that many sick people, but some experts say it is also likely underreporting mortalities to protect Kim from political damage.
The official Korean Central News Agency said Kim attended the funeral Sunday of Hyon Chol Hae, a Korean People’s Army marshal who played a key role in grooming him as the country’s next leader before Kim’s father, Kim Jong Il, died in late 2011.
In what was one of the country’s biggest state funerals since his father’s death, a bare-faced Kim Jong Un carried Hyon’s coffin with other top officials who wore masks before he threw earth to his grave with his hands at the national cemetery. Kim and hundreds of masked soldiers and officials also deeply bowed before Hyon’s grave, state TV footage showed.
State TV earlier showed thousands of other masked soldiers clad in olive-green uniforms gathered at a Pyongyang plaza taking off their hats and paying a silent tribute before a funeral limousine carrying Hyon’s body left for the cemetery. KCNA said “a great many” soldiers and citizens also turned out along streets to express their condolences.
Kim often arranges big funerals for late senior officials loyal to his ruling family and shows a human side in a possible bid to draw the support of the country’s ruling elite and boost internal unity.
KCNA quoted Kim as saying that “the name of Hyon Chol Hae would be always remembered along with the august name of Kim Jong Il.” He wept when he visited a mourning station established for Hyon last week.
During Sunday’s funeral, most people, except for Kim Jong Un and honor guards, wore masks. The Norths’ ongoing outbreak was likely caused by the April 25 military parade and related events that drew large crowds of people who wore no masks.
North Korea maintains a nationwide lockdown and other stringent rules to curb the virus outbreak. Region-to-region movement is banned, but key agricultural, economic and other industrial activities were continuing in an apparent effort to minimize harm to the country’s already moribund economy.
KCNA said Monday that 167,650 new fever cases had been detected in the past 24-hour period, a notable drop from the peak of about 390,000 reported about one week ago. It said one more person died and that the fever’s fatality rate was 0.002 percent.
“All the people of (North Korea) maintain the current favorable turn in the anti-epidemic campaign with maximum awareness, in response to the call of the party central committee for defending their precious life and future with confidence in sure victory and redoubled great efforts,” KCNA said.
Experts question the North’s tally, given North Korea’s 26 million people are mostly unvaccinated and about 40 percent are reportedly undernourished. The public health care system is almost broken and chronically short of medicine and supplies. In South Korea, where most of its 52 million people are fully vaccinated, the fatality rate of COVID-19 was 0.13 percent as of Monday.


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

’Stop interfering in Afghanistan’, says Taliban leader in rare appearance
Updated 33 min 4 sec ago

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

’Stop interfering in Afghanistan’, says Taliban leader in rare appearance
  • Akhundzada was addressing a major gathering of religious scholars in Kabul

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 01 July 2022

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 01 July 2022

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.