Pope Francis asks North Korea to invite him to visit

Pope Francis asks North Korea to invite him to visit
Pope Francis has repeatedly urged Koreans on the peninsula to ‘work for peace.’ (AP)
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Updated 26 August 2022

Pope Francis asks North Korea to invite him to visit

Pope Francis asks North Korea to invite him to visit
  • Pontiff say he would not turn down a chance to visit and work for peace
  • A potential papal visit to the isolated, nuclear-armed country was previously floated in 2018

SEOUL: Pope Francis has asked Pyongyang to invite him to North Korea, saying in a televised interview on Friday that he would not turn down a chance to visit and work for peace.

A potential papal visit to the isolated, nuclear-armed country was previously floated in 2018 when Seoul’s former president Moon Jae-in embarked on a round of diplomacy with Pyongyang’s leader Kim Jong Un.

Moon, who is Catholic, said during a summit that Kim told him the pontiff would be “enthusiastically” welcomed.

Pope Francis replied at the time that he would be willing to go if he received an official invitation.

But Pyongyang has largely cut off contact with Seoul following the collapse of a second summit between Kim and then-US president Donald Trump in 2019, which has left talks at a standstill.

“When they invite me — that is to say, please invite me — I won’t say no,” Pope Francis told South Korea’s state broadcaster KBS in an interview that aired Friday.

“The goal is simply fraternity,” he added.

Ties between North and South Korea have been at a frosty low since Seoul inaugurated a hawkish new president, Yoon Suk-yeol, in May.

Yoon offered aid to the North in return for denuclearization, but Kim’s regime ridiculed the plan.

The North blamed South Korea for its May outbreak of COVID-19 and earlier this month threatened to “wipe out” Seoul’s authorities in retaliation.

North Korea has conducted a record number of weapons tests this year, including firing an intercontinental ballistic missile at full range for the first time since 2017.

The pope has repeatedly urged Koreans on the peninsula to “work for peace.”

“You, the Korean people, have suffered from the war,” he said.

Religious freedom is enshrined in the North’s constitution, but all religious activity is banned outside of state-sanctioned institutions.

In the early 20th century, before the division of the peninsula, Pyongyang was a regional missionary hub with scores of churches and a thriving Christian community that earned it the title “Jerusalem of the East.”

But Kim Il Sung, the North’s late founding leader and the current ruler’s grandfather, viewed Christianity as a threat and eradicated it through executions and labor camps.

The North’s regime has since allowed Catholic organizations to run aid projects, but direct relations with the Vatican are non-existent.

When Pope Francis visited South Korea in 2014, he held a special mass dedicated to the reunification of the two Koreas.


155 lightly injured in train collision near Barcelona

155 lightly injured in train collision near Barcelona
Updated 07 December 2022

155 lightly injured in train collision near Barcelona

155 lightly injured in train collision near Barcelona

MADRID: More than 150 people were lightly injured Wednesday when a train ran into the back of another at a station near Barcelona, the emergency services and Spain’s Renfe rail operator said Wednesday.
A spokeswoman for the SEM regional emergency services said the vast majority of those hurt in the collision which occurred just before 8:00 am (0700 GMT) sustained light injuries, while five were in moderate condition.
“There was a collision between two trains at 7:50 am at the Montcada i Reixac-Manresa station, on the line heading to Barcelona, that’s to say one train ran into the back of another,” a spokesman for the state rail operator told AFP.
Rail traffic along the line was suspended in both directions and Renfe had opened an investigation into what happened, he said.
“There were 155 people affected of which 150 were lightly injured and five who were moderately hurt,” a spokeswoman told AFP.
She said 18 medical units had been deployed to the area, which lies some 10 kilometers (six miles) north of Barcelona.


Germany busts far-right terror cell planning parliament attack

Germany busts far-right terror cell planning parliament attack
Updated 07 December 2022

Germany busts far-right terror cell planning parliament attack

Germany busts far-right terror cell planning parliament attack
  • Raids targeted alleged members of “Citizens of the Reich” (Reichsbuerger) movement
  • Two of the 25 arrests were made abroad

FRANKFURT: German police staged nationwide raids on Wednesday and arrested 25 people suspected of belonging to a far-right “terror cell” plotting to overthrow the government and attack parliament.
Around 3,000 officers including elite anti-terror units took part in the early morning raids and searched more than 130 properties, in what German media described as one of the country’s largest police actions ever against extremists.
The raids targeted alleged members of the “Citizens of the Reich” (Reichsbuerger) movement suspected of “having made concrete preparations to violently force their way into the German parliament with a small armed group,” federal prosecutors said in a statement.
Those arrested are accused of having formed “a terrorist group by the end of November 2021 at the latest, which had set itself the goal of overcoming the existing state order in Germany and replacing it with their own kind of state,” they said.
Two of the 25 arrests were made abroad, in Austria and Italy.
The prosecutors in Karlsruhe said they had identified a further 27 people as suspected members or supporters of the terror network.
The Reichsbuerger movement includes neo-Nazis, conspiracy theorists and gun enthusiasts who reject the legitimacy of the modern German republic.
Long dismissed as malcontents and oddballs, the Reichsbuerger have become increasingly radicalized in recent years and are seen as a growing security threat.
Former soldiers are believed to be among the members of the recently established terror group, federal prosecutors said.
“The accused are united by a deep rejection of state institutions and the free, democratic basic order of the Federal Republic of Germany,” they said.
The suspects were aware that their plan “could only be realized by using military means and violence against state representatives,” they added.
Justice Minister Marco Buschmann praised the dismantling of the “suspected terror cell” on Twitter, saying it showed that Germany was able to defend its democracy.
Reichsbuerger followers generally believe in the continued existence of the pre-war German Reich, or empire, as it stood under the Nazis, and several groups have declared their own states.
They typically deny the authority of police and other state institutions.
According to prosecutors, the terror cell suspects believe in Reichsbuerger and QAnon conspiracy theories and are “strongly convinced” that Germany is run by a “deep state” that needs to be toppled.
They allegedly planned to appoint one of the arrested suspects, Heinrich XIII P.R., as Germany’s new leader after the coup.
He had already sought to make contact with Russian officials to discuss Germany’s “new state order” after the coup, prosecutors said.
There was however “no indication that the contact persons responded positively to his request.”
A Russian woman named as Vitalia B., who was among those arrested on Wednesday, is suspected of having facilitated those contacts, prosecutors added.
As part of the preparations for the coup, members of the alleged terror cell acquired weapons, organized shooting practice and tried to recruit new followers, particularly among the military and police, according to prosecutors.
Germany’s domestic intelligence service estimates that the Reichsbuerger scene consists of around 20,000 people.
Of those, more than 2,000 are deemed potentially violent.
Germany considers far-right terrorism the biggest threat to its security following a spate of attacks in recent years.
In April, police foiled a plot by a far-right group to kidnap the health minister.
The group was affiliated with the Reichsbuerger movement and the so-called “Querdenker” (Lateral Thinkers) group that opposed the government’s coronavirus-related shutdowns.


‘Humanity has become a weapon of mass extinction,’ warns UN chief

‘Humanity has become a weapon of mass extinction,’ warns UN chief
Updated 07 December 2022

‘Humanity has become a weapon of mass extinction,’ warns UN chief

‘Humanity has become a weapon of mass extinction,’ warns UN chief
  • “As you can also see Canada is a place of free expression, where individuals and communities are free to express themselves openly and strongly, and we thank them for sharing their perspectives,” said Trudeau in response

MONTREAL: UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on Tuesday slammed multinational corporations for turning the world’s ecosystems into “playthings of profit” and warned failure to correct course would lead to catastrophic results.
“With our bottomless appetite for unchecked and unequal economic growth, humanity has become a weapon of mass extinction,” he said, in a speech ahead of biodiversity talks in Montreal.
Since taking office in 2017, Guterres, a former Portuguese prime minister, has made climate change his signature issue.
His fiery denunciations at the ceremonial opening of the conference, known as COP15, revealed the plight of the planet’s endangered plants and animals — an interconnected crisis — are equally close to his heart.
Before he took the dais, a group of around half a dozen Indigenous protesters interrupted a speech by Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who is co-hosting the event with China.
They waved a banner that read “Indigenous genocide = Ecocide” and “To save biodiversity stop invading our land,” and chanted for a few minutes before they were escorted out, to a smattering of applause.
“As you can also see Canada is a place of free expression, where individuals and communities are free to express themselves openly and strongly, and we thank them for sharing their perspectives,” said Trudeau in response.
The meeting is not to be confused with another set of UN talks earlier this month, which were on climate and called COP27.

Nearly 200 countries have gathered for the December 7-19 meeting in an effort to hammer out a “Paris moment” for nature.
The challenges are daunting: one million species are at risk of extinction; one-third of all land is severely degraded and fertile soil is being lost; while pollution and climate change are accelerating degradation of the oceans.
Chemicals, plastics and air pollution are choking land, water and air, while planetary heating brought about by burning fossil fuels are causing climate chaos — from heatwaves and forest fires to droughts and floods.
“We are treating nature like a toilet,” Guterres said bluntly.
“And ultimately, we are committing suicide by proxy” he added — with the impacts felt on jobs, hunger, disease and death.
Economic losses from ecosystem degradation, meanwhile, are estimated to stand at $3 trillion annually from 2030.
Ahead of the talks, AFP spoke to Elizabeth Mrema, the head of the UN’s Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), who said failure was not an option.
“For the Paris agreement to succeed, biodiversity also has to succeed. For climate to succeed, nature has to succeed, and that’s why we have to deal with them together,” she said.
Draft targets for the 10-year framework include a cornerstone pledge to protect 30 percent of the world’s land and seas by 2030, eliminating harmful fishing and agriculture subsidies, tackling invasive species and reducing pesticides.
The new goal will rely heavily on the involvement of Indigenous peoples, who steward land that is home to around 80 percent of Earth’s remaining biodiversity.
Divisions have already emerged on the key issue of financing, with wealthy countries under pressure to funnel more money to developing nations for conservation.
Hopes have already been tempered by the absence of world leaders: Canada’s Trudeau will be the only in attendance.
COP15 is currently chaired by China, but it is not hosting the meeting because of the Covid pandemic.

 


Trump Organization convicted of tax fraud in New York

Trump Organization convicted of tax fraud in New York
Updated 07 December 2022

Trump Organization convicted of tax fraud in New York

Trump Organization convicted of tax fraud in New York
  • Trump and his three eldest children face a trial late next year in a civil lawsuit by New York’s attorney general that accuses them of misstating the value of properties to enrich themselves

NEW YORK: Donald Trump’s family business was found guilty of tax fraud by a New York jury Tuesday, dealing a blow to the ex-president as he eyes the White House again.
The Trump Organization and separate entity the Trump Payroll Corp. were found guilty on all counts, marking the first time the companies had ever been convicted of crimes.
“This was a case about greed and cheating,” said Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg, who prosecuted the case.
Trump himself was not charged but the fact the sprawling real-estate, hotel and golf business that bears his name is now a convicted felon is likely to inflict damage to his reputation as he seeks the Republican nomination for the presidency in 2024.
The two entities were convicted of running a 13-year-scheme to defraud and evade taxes by falsifying business records. In all, they were found guilty on 17 counts.
Jurors agreed with prosecutors that the Trump Organization — currently run by Trump’s two adult sons, Donald Jr and Eric Trump — hid compensation it paid to top executives between 2005 and 2021.
Longtime CFO Allen Weisselberg, had already pleaded guilty to 15 counts of tax fraud, and testified against his former company as part of a plea bargain. He did not implicate Trump during the trial.
A close friend of the Trump family, the 75-year-old Weisselberg admitted he schemed with the company to receive undeclared benefits such as a rent-free apartment in a posh Manhattan neighborhood, luxury cars for him and his wife and private school tuition for his grandchildren.
According to his plea deal, Weisselberg agreed to pay nearly $2 million in fines and penalties and complete a five-month prison sentence in exchange for testimony during the trial, which started in October.
Trump, posting on his social media platform, said the Trump Organization bore no responsibility for “Weisselberg committing tax fraud on his personal tax returns.”
Under the headline “Manhattan Witch Hunt!” Trump said no benefit accrued to the company from Weisselberg’s actions, and that neither he nor any employees were “allowed to legally view” the CFO’s returns.
Trump said he was “disappointed with the verdict” and will appeal.

Trump’s company faces a fine of around $1.5 million, a paltry sum to the billionaire real estate developer.
It’s symbolic though as he battles a host of legal and congressional probes that will likely complicate his run for a second presidential term, announced in Florida last month.
Trump and his three eldest children face a trial late next year in a civil lawsuit by New York’s attorney general that accuses them of misstating the value of properties to enrich themselves.
Prosecutor Letitia James has requested that Trump pay at least $250 million in penalties — a sum she says he made from the fraud — and that his family be banned from running businesses in the state.
James, a Democrat, hailed Tuesday’s verdict.
“We can have no tolerance for individuals or organizations that violate our laws to line their pockets,” she said.
Trump has been ordered to testify in April 2023 as part of a defamation lawsuit brought by a woman who says he raped her in the 1990s.
He is also facing legal scrutiny for his efforts to overturn the results of the November 2020 election and over the January 6, 2021 attack on the US Capitol by his supporters.
 

 


India, Central Asian countries discuss concerns over ‘terrorist acts’ in Afghanistan

Ajit Doval. (AFP)
Ajit Doval. (AFP)
Updated 06 December 2022

India, Central Asian countries discuss concerns over ‘terrorist acts’ in Afghanistan

Ajit Doval. (AFP)
  • Security chiefs say ‘collective response’ essential
  • Afghanistan an ‘important issue,’ India’s national security adviser says

NEW DELHI: India and four Central Asian nations said on Tuesday that Afghanistan should not be used for “any terrorist acts," following an inaugural security meeting focused on countering terrorism and maintaining stability in the region.

India’s National Security Adviser Ajit Doval hosted his counterparts from Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan in New Delhi, which followed an India-Central Asia leadership summit led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in January.

Afghanistan was top of the agenda on Tuesday — similar to the summit focus earlier this year — as officials raised concerns about the developing situation in the crisis-torn nation.

“Afghanistan is an important issue concerning us all,” Doval said. “We meet at a time when great churns in international relations and uncertainty about the future.”

India has no diplomatic ties with Afghanistan and closed its embassy in Kabul in August last year after US-led forces left the country and the Taliban took over.

New Delhi had spent billions of dollars on infrastructure and humanitarian assistance in Afghanistan after the previous Taliban regime was toppled in a US-led invasion in 2001.

A joint declaration issued after Tuesday’s talks “emphasized that the territory of Afghanistan should not be used for sheltering, training, planning or financing any terrorist acts.”

India and the Central Asian countries, which in this meeting had not included Turkmenistan, also pointed to the deteriorating humanitarian situation in Afghanistan and called for action to provide humanitarian assistance for its people.

Their security chiefs also discussed connectivity to enhance trade and improve closer interaction. In addition, a “collective and coordinated response” to address the issue of “terrorist propaganda, recruitment and fundraising efforts” was essential, the statement reads.

The United Nations said last month that organized crime and terrorist organizations “are thriving once again” in Afghanistan. There have been several high-profile attacks in Kabul in recent months claimed by the regional branch of Daesh, including a suicide blast outside the Russian embassy in September and an attack on the Pakistan embassy last week.

The regional meeting was an opportunity for India to “work together and engage” with the Central Asian nations to ensure that “sources of financing groups are curtailed and that “the Taliban government in Kabul is under pressure to perform on this issue,” Harsh V. Pant, head of strategic studies at the New Delhi-based Observer Research Foundation, told Arab News.

“What is happening in Afghanistan and the persistence of terrorism, terror groups there pose a long-term challenge to the region and India therefore is trying to work out modus vivendi for Central Asian countries to see if a common policy response can be initiated.”