North Korea suggests balloons flown from South brought COVID-19

North Korea suggests balloons flown from South brought COVID-19
North Korea suggests balloons flown from South brought COVID-19. (AP)
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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.


Japan PM ‘regrets’ Morocco’s absence from TICAD 8

Japan PM ‘regrets’ Morocco’s absence from TICAD 8
Updated 14 sec ago

Japan PM ‘regrets’ Morocco’s absence from TICAD 8

Japan PM ‘regrets’ Morocco’s absence from TICAD 8
  • Japan PM Kishida Fumio asked Morocco to cooperate with Japan in the future

TOKYO: Japanese Prime Minister Kishida Fumio said that Morocco’s decision to not participate in the 8th TICAD Summit was “regrettable” during a meeting on Wednesday with the Moroccan Prime Minister Aziz Akhannouch.

Kishida stated that he would like to obtain the cooperation of Akhannouch in order to promote the entry of Japanese companies into Morocco and also asked the Moroccan side to cooperate with Japan in the future, including on TICAD events.

In addition, Kishida said that Morocco’s ammonium phosphate is important for the stable supply of fertilizers and that he looked forward to Morocco’s constructive response on the matter.

The two leaders also exchanged views on international issues and resolved to continue working closely together in dealing with the food security risks.

Akhannouch expressed his heartfelt condolences on the passing of former Prime Minister Abe Shinzo and stated that he would like to further strengthen the cooperative relationship that the two countries have built over many years in a wide range of fields.

Kishida expressed his gratitude to Akhannouch for attending Abe’s state funeral and said that the two countries have enjoyed good relations for many years based on the friendship between the imperial and royal families.


Kishida promises support for two-state solution in meeting with former Palestine PM

Kishida promises support for two-state solution in meeting with former Palestine PM
Updated 28 September 2022

Kishida promises support for two-state solution in meeting with former Palestine PM

Kishida promises support for two-state solution in meeting with former Palestine PM
  • Kishida stated that Japan should refrain from any unilateral measures that go against the peace process

TOKYO: Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida on Wednesday reiterated his support for a “two-state solution” to the Palestinian problem during a “candid exchange of views” with former Palestinian Prime Minister Dr. Rami Hamdallah in Tokyo on Wednesday.

Kishida stated that Japan should refrain from any unilateral measures that go against the peace process and said he would like to continue contributing to the improvement of the environment for the progress of peace in the Middle East.

Japan’s PM also expressed his support for Palestine’s economic self-reliance through food assistance of more than $8 million – which was provided in response to the deterioration of food security in Palestine as a result of the situation in Ukraine – and the “Corridor for Peace and Prosperity” initiative promoted by Japan. Hamdallah expressed his gratitude for Japan’s support. 

Hamdallah conveyed Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’ condolences on the passing of former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. Kishida expressed his gratitude for the condolences sent by Palestinian officials.

Both sides agreed to continue to develop the relationship between Japan and Palestine.

This article was originally published on Arab News Japan.


India bans Islamist group, citing ‘terror links’

India bans Islamist group, citing ‘terror links’
Updated 28 September 2022

India bans Islamist group, citing ‘terror links’

India bans Islamist group, citing ‘terror links’
  • The Popular Front of India denies involvement in extremist activity
  • Police have arrested more than 300 PFI cadres in raids across the country since Friday

NEW DELHI: India banned an Islamist group and its affiliates for five years on Wednesday over alleged terrorism links, after a nationwide crackdown that saw hundreds of the organization’s members arrested.
A government notice said the Popular Front of India (PFI) had been outlawed for its ties to extremist organizations, including the Daesh group, and for violent attacks attributed to its members.
The PFI denies involvement in extremist activity and says it is the subject of a “witch hunt” by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu nationalist government.
Police have arrested more than 300 PFI cadres in raids across the country since Friday.
A home affairs ministry statement announcing the ban outlined a laundry list of charges accusing the group of violent and subversive activities.
Members had engaged in “cold-blooded killings of persons associated with organizations espousing other faiths, obtaining explosives to target prominent people and places and destruction of public property,” Wednesday’s notice said.
The ministry said PFI members had been responsible for at least 10 murders in southern India since 2016 and accused the group of “pursuing a secret agenda” to radicalize society and undermine democracy.
Hard-line Hindu groups have long campaigned for a ban on PFI, which is estimated to have tens of thousands of members around India.
Calls to outlaw the organization have grown in recent months after several Muslim-led protests against the government.
The group was accused of organizing street rallies against a state ban on the wearing of hijabs by Muslim school students in Karnataka, which resulted in violent confrontations between protesters and Hindu activists.
Modi’s government has been accused of clamping down on dissent and promoting discriminatory policies toward the country’s 200-million-strong Muslim minority since coming to power in 2014.
Actions against the PFI were “a conscious attempt by the Modi government to spread Islamophobia among the public and demonize Muslims as a community,” CPIML Liberation, a communist political party in India, wrote on Twitter.
But the PFI has been implicated in violent attacks before, with 13 members jailed in 2015 for hacking off the hand of a university lecturer accused of insulting the Prophet Muhammad.
Wednesday’s ministry notice said some PFI activists had joined Islamic State and participated in terror activities in Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan.
It also linked the PFI to Jamaat-ul-Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB), an extremist group that carried out several bombing attacks in India’s eastern neighbor in 2005 that left at least 28 dead.


UN official warns of conflict, more poverty in Afghanistan

UN official warns of conflict, more poverty in Afghanistan
Updated 28 September 2022

UN official warns of conflict, more poverty in Afghanistan

UN official warns of conflict, more poverty in Afghanistan
  • UN humanitarian chief Martin Griffiths said in late August that more than half the Afghan population — some 24 million people — need assistance and close to 19 million are facing acute levels of food insecurity

UNITED NATIONS: A senior UN official warned Tuesday of a possible internal conflict and worsening poverty in Afghanistan if the Taliban don’t respond quickly to the needs of all elements of society, saying their crackdown on the rights of girls and women signals indifference to over 50 percent of Afghanistan’s population and a willingness to risk international isolation.
Markus Potzel, the UN deputy representative for Afghanistan, told the Security Council some of the Taliban’s “claimed and acknowledged achievements” are also eroding.
He pointed to a steady rise in armed clashes, criminal activity and high profile terrorist attacks especially by the Islamic State extremist group which demonstrated in recent months that it can carry out assassinations of figures close to the Taliban, attack foreign embassies, fire rockets against Afghanistan’s neighbors — and maintain their longstanding campaign against Shia Muslims and ethnic minorities.
Potzel said the economic situation also “remains tenuous,” with food security worsening and winter approaching.
The UN humanitarian appeal for $4.4 billion has only received $1.9 billion which is “alarming,” he said, urging donors to immediately provide $614 million to support winter preparations and an additional $154 million to preposition essential supplies before places get cut off by winter weather.
UN humanitarian chief Martin Griffiths said in late August that more than half the Afghan population — some 24 million people — need assistance and close to 19 million are facing acute levels of food insecurity. And “we worry” that the figures will soon become worse because winter weather will send already high fuel and food prices skyrocketing, he said.
While there have been some positive developments in Afghanistan in recent months, Potzel said, they have been too few, too slow, “and are outweighed by the negatives, “in particular, the ongoing ban on secondary education for girls — unique in the world — and growing restrictions on women’s rights.”
When the Taliban first ruled Afghanistan from 1996 to 2001, women and girls were subject to overwhelming restrictions — no education, no participation in public life, and women were required to wear the all-encompassing burqa.
Following the Taliban ouster by US forces in 2001 after the 9/11 attacks in the United States, and for the next 20 years, Afghan girls were not only enrolled in school but universities, and many women became doctors, lawyers, judges, members of parliament and owners of businesses, traveling without face coverings.
After the Taliban overran the capital on Aug. 15, 2021 as US and NATO forces were in the final stages of their chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan after 20 years, they promised a more moderate form of Islamic rule including allowing women to continue their education and work outside the home.
They initially announced no dress code though they also vowed to impose Sharia, or Islamic law. But Taliban hard-liners have since turned back the clock to their previous harsh rule, confirming the worst fears of human rights activists and further complicating Taliban dealings with an already distrustful international community.
Potzel said that in UN discussions with Taliban officials, leaders state that the decision has been made and is maintained by Taliban supreme leader Mullah Haibatullah Akhundzada, “defended by hard-liners around him, but questioned by most of the rest of the movement who are either unable or unwilling to change the trajectory.”
The result, he said, is that women and girls are relegated to their home, deprived of their rights, and “Afghanistan as a whole is denied the benefit of the significant contributions that women and girls have to offer.”
“If the Taliban do not respond to the needs of all elements of Afghan society and constructively engage within the very limited window of opportunity with the international community, it is unclear what would come next,” Potzel said.
“Further fragmentation, isolation, poverty, and internal conflict are scenarios, leading to potential mass migration and a domestic environment conducive to terrorist organizations, as well as greater misery for the Afghan population,” he said.


UN calls on Iran to refrain from ‘disproportionate force’ against protests

UN calls on Iran to refrain from ‘disproportionate force’ against protests
Updated 11 min 8 sec ago

UN calls on Iran to refrain from ‘disproportionate force’ against protests

UN calls on Iran to refrain from ‘disproportionate force’ against protests

WASHINGTON: UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres called on Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi not to use “disproportionate force” against protesters who took to the streets after the death of a young woman in morality police custody, his spokesman said Tuesday.
In a bilateral meeting last week during the UN General Assembly, Guterres “stressed to President Raisi the need to respect human rights, including freedom of expression, peaceful assembly and association,” spokesman Stephane Dujarric said.
“We are increasingly concerned about reports of rising fatalities, including women and children, related to the protests,” Dujarric said in a statement.
He said Guterres “calls on the security forces to refrain from using unnecessary or disproportionate force and appeals to all to exercise utmost restraint to avoid further escalation.”
He also called for a “prompt, impartial and effective investigation” into the death of Mahsa Amini, the young woman who died in the custody of Iran’s morality police, sparking nationwide protests that have left at least dozens of people dead.
Raisi on Saturday labelled the protests “riots” and urged “decisive action against the opponents of the security and peace of the country and the people,” his office said.