News & Current Affairs

July 4, 2009

North Korea missile tests defy UN

Filed under: Latest, Politics News — Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , — expressyoureself @ 1:27 pm

North Korea missile tests defy UN

A student passes a diagram of North Korean missile types at a South Korean observation post in Paju, 19 June

North Korea is thought to have thousands of missiles

North Korea has test-fired a series of missiles in an apparent act of defiance on 4 July, American Independence Day.

Reports say at least seven Scud-type ballistic missiles were fired, with a range of about 500km (312 miles).

South Korea and Japan called the latest tests, which follow several others in recent weeks, an “act of provocation”.

North Korea is banned from all ballistic missile-related activities under UN sanctions imposed after a second underground nuclear test in May.

South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) said the missiles were fired from one of the North’s east coast launch sites on Saturday morning.

All landed in the Sea of Japan, known in South Korea as the East Sea.

NORTH KOREA 2009 TESTS
map
4 July – Seven suspected ballistic missiles fired
2 July – four short-range cruise missiles launched
25 May – second underground nuclear test brings new UN sanctions
25/26 May – series of short-range rockets fired
5 April – N Korea says long-range rocket was satellite launch

“Our military is fully ready to counter any North Korean threats and provocations,” the JCS said in a statement.

A South Korean defence official said Saturday’s tests were of greater concern than four short-range ones on Thursday, as the missiles had longer ranges.

“Thursday’s missile tests were apparently made as part of a military drill but today’s launches, which came on the eve of the US Independence Day, are believed to be aimed at political purposes,” the official told Yonhap news agency.

The South Korean government condemned the launches for being in breach of the recent UN security council resolution.

A spokesman for the US state department, meanwhile, described North Korea’s behaviour as “not helpful” and urged it not to aggravate tensions, AFP news agency reported.

Nuclear warhead fears

The BBC’s John Sudworth in Seoul says the launches are seen there as part of North Korean efforts to ratchet up the tension.

The missiles’ estimated 500km reach – although still technically short-range – brings most of South Korea withing striking distance, our correspondent says.

Japanese and South Korean media have reported that North Korea may be preparing to launch an intercontinental ballistic missile.

Our correspondent says there are no signs that such a test could be imminent.

Pyongyang is banned from testing ballistic missiles under UN resolutions but launched a long-range rocket in April, which many governments saw as a thinly disguised test of Taepodong-2 missile technology.

There are fears that North Korea is trying to produce nuclear warheads small enough to put on missiles – but experts say this appears to be several years away.

After six-nation talks aimed at curbing North Korea’s nuclear ambitions broke down earlier this year, Pyongyang said it would “weaponise” its plutonium stocks and start enriching uranium.

On 12 June the UN Security Council approved a resolution allowing inspection of air, sea and land shipments in and out of North Korea suspected of carrying banned arms and weapons-related material.

The North has said it will treat any interception of its ships as a declaration of war.

Korea analyst Aidan Foster-Carter told the BBC that the international community will have to wait and see what North Korea wants, while reprimanding it and taking what action it can.

He believes that the political situation inside North Korea could be behind its recent behaviour.

There are questions over the health of leader Kim Jong-il, after his apparent stroke last year.

Reports suggest he has named his youngest son as his successor – and some analysts believe the recent bellicosity could be a show of strength aimed at securing domestic support for his plans.

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October 3, 2008

Biden and Palin debate

Biden and Palin debate

The two US vice-presidential candidates have traded blows on the financial crisis, climate change and foreign policy in their only TV debate.

Democrat Joe Biden sought to link Republican presidential candidate John McCain to the policies of President Bush, saying he was “no maverick”.

Republican Sarah Palin defended herself against claims of inexperience and said the McCain ticket would bring change.

Voter polls suggested Mr Biden had won but Mrs Palin did better than expected.

The debate at Washington University in St Louis, Missouri, was seen as particularly crucial for Mrs Palin, whose poll ratings have fallen.

Mrs Palin played to her strengths and her image as a mother in touch with ordinary Americans.

For the most part she spoke fluently but simply about the economy, climate change and the war in Iraq, our correspondent says, and there were few of the stumbling gaffes that have become the staple of late-night comedy shows.

Two polls conducted after the debate, by US networks CNN and CBS News, judged Mr Biden the winner. However, the CNN poll found a large majority thought Mrs Palin had done better than expected.

‘Hockey moms’

Asked by moderator Gwen Ifill who was at fault for the current problems with the US banking system, Mrs Palin blamed predatory lenders and “greed and corruption” on Wall Street.

It would be a travesty if we were to quit now in Iraq
Sarah Palin
Republican VP nominee

Senator McCain would “put partisanship aside” to help resolve the crisis, she said, and had raised the alarm over mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac long ago.

She said “Joe six-packs and hockey moms across the country” – referring to middle-class voters – needed to say “never again” to Wall Street chiefs.

Mrs Palin also accused Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama of seeking to raise taxes but Mr Biden rejected that claim.

He said the economic crisis was evidence that the policies of the past eight years had been “the worst we’ve ever had” and accused Mr McCain of being “out of touch” on the economy.

Senator Obama’s plan to raise taxes on households earning over $250,000 was “fairness”, Mr Biden said, unlike Mr McCain’s proposals for more tax breaks for big companies.

‘Dead wrong’

On foreign policy, Mrs Palin accused Mr Obama of refusing to acknowledge that the “surge” strategy of extra troops in Iraq had worked.

He’s not been a maverick on virtually anything that people talk about around the kitchen table
Joe Biden
Democratic VP nominee

“It would be a travesty if we were to quit now in Iraq,” she said, describing Mr Obama’s plan to withdraw combat troops a “white flag of surrender”.

Mr Biden countered by saying Mr McCain had been “dead wrong” on Iraq and had yet to present a plan to end the conflict.

He said the US was wasting $10bn a month in Iraq while ignoring the real front line in the fight against terrorism, Afghanistan.

In turn, Mrs Palin said Mr Obama was naive for saying he was willing to talk directly to the leaders of Iran, North Korea and Cuba. “That is beyond bad judgment. That is dangerous,” she said.

The pair also sparred on the issue of climate change.

Mrs Palin, governor of energy-rich Alaska, said human activities were a factor in climate change but that climatic cycles were also an element. She urged US energy independence as part of the answer.

Key words used most frequently by Joe Biden in the debate

Mr Biden pointed to climate change as one of the major points on which the two campaigns differed, saying: “If you don’t understand what the cause is, it’s virtually impossible to come up with a solution.”

He said he and Mr Obama backed “clean-coal” technology and accused Mr McCain of having voted against funding for alternative energy projects and seeing only one solution: “Drill, drill, drill.”

While Mrs Palin described her party’s candidate as “the consummate maverick”, her rival argued that Mr McCain had followed the Bush administration’s policies on important issues such as Iraq.

“He’s not been a maverick on virtually anything that people talk about around the kitchen table,” Mr Biden said.

Overall, commentators highlighted Mrs Palin’s frequent use of a “folksy” style, for example using expressions like “doggone it” and telling her opponent: “Aw, say it ain’t so, Joe.”

They also noted how Mr Biden appeared emotional as he talked about raising his two young sons alone after a car crash killed his first wife.

Poll shift

According to a Pew Research Center poll, two-thirds of voters planned to follow the debate, far more than in 2004.

McCain and running mate Sarah Palin at Republican convention in St Paul on 4 September 2008

Sarah Palin was a huge hit at the Republican convention last month

A new poll by the Washington Post suggests that 60% of voters now see Mrs Palin as lacking the experience to be an effective president.

One-third say they are less likely to vote for Senator McCain, as a result.

Independent voters, who are not affiliated to either political party, have the most sceptical views of the 44-year-old Alaska governor.

Another poll, for CBS News, gives Senator Barack Obama 49% to 40% for Mr McCain.

It is the latest in a series of opinion polls that have shown a significant shift in the direction of Mr Obama since the economic crisis began.

Mrs Palin, whose fiery speech at last month’s Republican convention inspired Christian conservatives, produces unusually strong feelings – both positive and negative – among voters.

Key words used most frequently by Sarah Palin in the debate

Although Mrs Palin has succeeded in mobilising conservative Republicans, her key challenge is to appeal to the swing voters who could determine who will win the battleground states, analysts say.

In particular, she needs to win over the “Wal-Mart moms” – white, working-class married women.

A recent poll of customers of discount giant Wal-Mart suggested that Mr McCain was slightly ahead with this group in Ohio and Florida, while Mr Obama was leading in Virginia and Colorado.

Meanwhile, the McCain campaign is scaling back its operations in another swing state, Michigan, effectively conceding the advantage to Mr Obama there.

September 19, 2008

North Korea ‘to restore reactor’

North Korea ‘to restore reactor’

Hyun Hak Bong (19 September 2008)

Hyun Hak Bong said the US was making unreasonable demands

North Korea has stopped disabling the Yongbyon nuclear reactor and is making “thorough preparations” to restart it, a foreign ministry official has said.

Hyun Hak-bong said that Pyongyang had suspended work to put the plant out of action because the US had not fulfilled its part of a disarmament-for-aid deal.

When asked when it would be restored, he said: “You’ll come to know soon.”

Last month, North Korea said Washington had not removed it as promised from a list of state sponsors of terrorism.

Pyongyang was expecting to be removed after finally submitting a long-delayed account of its nuclear facilities to the six-party talks in June, in accordance with the disarmament deal it signed in 2007.

It also blew up the main cooling tower of the Yongbyon facility in a symbolic gesture of its commitment to the process.

For its part, the US says it will refuse to remove North Korea from its list of state sponsors of terrorism until procedures by which the North’s disarmament will be verified are established.

‘Robber-like’

Mr Hyun claimed the process of decommissioning the plutonium-producing reactor at the Yongbyon plant was 90% complete.

But he said Pyongyang would respond to the US by halting the process and “proceeding with works to restore [the reactor] to its original status”.

South Koreans watch a cooling tower blowing up, file image
The main cooling tower at Yongbyon was blown up earlier this year

“You may say we have already started work to restore them,” he told reporters in the border village of Panmunjom inside the Demilitarized Zone before sitting down for talks with South Korean officials on sending energy aid to the North.

Mr Hyun also warned the US not to push for inspectors to verify the disarmament process work already undertaken, saying it was never part of the six-party deal.

“The US is insisting that we accept unilateral demands that had not been agreed upon. They want to go anywhere at any time to collect samples and carry out examinations with measuring equipment,” he said. “That means they intend to force an inspection.”

The diplomat said compelling Pyongyang to permit a “robber-like inspection method in the name of an international standard” would exacerbate tensions.

Meanwhile, South Korea said it will fulfil the deal struck at six-party talks to supply the North with a million tons of heavy fuel oil or equivalent in exchange for nuclear disablement.

Nearly half has been delivered and AFP news agency quoted a South Korean negotiator, Hwang Joon-kook, as saying the rest would be sent.

“We also want to make sure that the six-party process does not go backward,” Mr Hwang was quoted as saying.

Some South Korean officials have expressed doubt over whether the North’s claims to be reconstructing Yongbyon are genuine or a ploy to exert pressure on Washington.

In separate remarks by North Korea’s Mr Hyun, he reiterated North Korea’s rejection of reports that leader Kim Jong-il remains in ill health after suffering a stroke. He called the reports “sophism by evil people”.

‘Year to restore’

Earlier this month, reports in Japan, backed up by South Korea’s foreign ministry, claimed the North Koreans were actively reconstructing Yongbyon.

The US later said plant workers appeared to be moving equipment out of storage, but that there was no effort to reconstruct it.

Experts believe Yongbyon would take a year to restore, a view supported by a recent International Atomic Energy Agency report.

The IAEA said the regime had already removed large quantities of essential nuclear materials from Yongbyon even before it agreed to dismantle the plant.

September 9, 2008

N Korea to mark 60th anniversary

N Korea to mark 60th anniversary

A Korean Central News Agency photo showing high-ranking North Korean officials and foreign guests at a meeting on the eve of the anniversary

A special meeting was held on the eve of the anniversary

North Korea is planning to celebrate its 60th anniversary with a military parade in the capital, Pyongyang.

Reports say the parade will be the largest the North has ever staged, with lots of military hardware on display.

Reclusive leader Kim Jong-il is expected to attend, and the parade will be watched closely because of speculation about his health.

The anniversary comes amid an impasse in international efforts to urge North Korea to abandon its nuclear program.

Health concerns

On Monday, North Korea’s state-run television channel KRT showed footage of the North’s cabinet holding a large indoor gathering to mark the anniversary.

The cabinet released a statement, picked up by monitors in Seoul, saying that North Korea had a powerful army that would “mercilessly punish invaders”.

According to South Korean media, the main parade on Tuesday will be the largest ever staged by its northern neighbor.

“The North probably wants to boost the image of its military might in order to cement unity within the country and secure a better position in the denuclearize negotiations,” a South Korean government source told JoongAng Ilbo newspaper.

North Korean leader Kim Jong-il with soldiers, August 2006

North Korean leader Kim Jong-il is notoriously reclusive

Military experts usually watch these parades to see if North Korea will unveil any new weapons systems.

But this time foreign observers will be particularly keen to note whether North Korean leader Kim Jong-il makes an appearance.

The future direction of North Korea is tightly linked to the personality of the country’s reclusive leader.

Mr Kim has not been seen in public since early last month, giving rise to speculation he could be seriously unwell.

He has been known to disappear from public view for extended periods before, and has always returned eventually, but this time the rumours of ill health have been given added impetus by news that a team of Chinese doctors was recently summoned to examine him.

Food shortages

The celebrations are taking place amid rising tensions between Pyongyang and the international community.

North Korea agreed in February 2007 to give up its nuclear ambitions in return for aid and diplomatic concessions, but the progress of the deal has been far from smooth.

After a long delay, Pyongyang handed over details of its nuclear facilities in June 2008.

In return, it expected the US to remove it from the list of state sponsors of terrorism, which the US has yet to do, so the North now appears to be starting to reassemble its main nuclear plant.

Meanwhile the World Food Program estimates that North Korea is suffering from a serious food shortage.

The North has relied on foreign assistance to help feed its 23 million people since its state-controlled economy collapsed in the mid-1990s.


Are you marking this anniversary? Are you in Pyongyang? What is happening in your area? Tell us your experience

September 5, 2008

Envoys meet for North Korea talks

Envoys meet for North Korea talks

A file photo from February 2008 of a US inspector studying disabled nuclear equipment at Yongbyon plant in North Korea

A sticking point in talks has been how to verify North Korea’s disarmament

Negotiators from the US, South Korea and Japan are to meet in Beijing to discuss the deadlock over North Korea’s nuclear program.

The talks follow initial moves by North Korea to reverse steps to dismantle its nuclear plant at Yongbyon.

North Korea accuses the US of failing to meet its obligations under a six-nation aid-for-disarmament deal.

This week it began moving some disassembled parts out of storage and back to the Yongbyon reactor.

“We need to break the deadlock at an early date,” South Korean negotiator Kim Sook said as he left for Beijing.

“It is an important moment in which North Korea should resume the disablement measures and enter the six-way talks process.”

Stand-off with US

North Korea agreed in February 2007 to give up its nuclear ambitions in return for aid and diplomatic concessions.

Foreign camera crews prepare to film the demolition of the cooling tower at the Yongbyon nuclear plant in North Korea on 27 June

In June it handed over long-awaited details of its nuclear facilities. In return, it expected the US to remove it from the list of state sponsors of terrorism.

But the US wants North Korea to agree to a process of verifying the information – something the two sides have so far failed to do.

Last week North Korea announced it had halted disabling work at its Yongbyon nuclear reactor. Officials from countries negotiating with North Korea now say that it is moving some equipment out of storage and back to the plant.

Envoys from the US, Japan and South Korea will hold a hastily-arranged meeting later on Friday. A Chinese negotiator will join the talks on Saturday.

“There is no information on whether North Korean officials will come to Beijing,” the South Korean envoy said.

Probe delay

In a separate development, North Korea has announced that it will delay a fresh probe into the abduction of Japanese citizens in the 1970s and 1980s to train spies.

In 2002, it admitted that it had kidnapped 13 Japanese citizens. Five have been returned and Pyongyang says the other eight died.

But Japan insists that North Korea abducted more people than it acknowledges, and wants more proof of the eight deaths.

North Korea said it would hold off on the probe until it established the policies of the new Japanese leader.

Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda announced his resignation earlier this week and the current favorite to replace him is the ruling party secretary-general, Taro Aso.

A well-known hawk, he has called for a tougher line towards North Korea – something that will worry the communist state.

August 23, 2008

N Korea ‘develops special noodle’

N Korea ‘develops special noodle’

A bowl of noodles (file image)

North Korea does not produce enough food to feed its population

North Korean scientists have developed a new kind of noodle that delays feelings of hunger, a Japan-based pro-Pyongyang newspaper has reported.

The noodles were made from corn and soybeans, the Choson Shinbo said.

They left people feeling fuller longer and represented a technological breakthrough, the newspaper said.

North Korea is dependent on foreign food aid. Last month the UN warned  that residents were experiencing their worst food shortages in a decade.

But the communist country remains reluctant to allow experts to fully assess the scale of the problem or give them adequate access to deliver aid.

UN warnings

According to the newspaper, which is seen as closely linked to the Pyongyang leadership, the new noodles have twice as much protein and fives times as much fat as ordinary noodles.

“When you consume ordinary noodles (made from wheat or corn), you may soon feel your stomach empty. But this soybean noodle delays such a feeling of hunger,” it said on its website.

The noodles would be available soon across North Korea, the newspaper said.

An estimated one million people starved to death in North Korea in the late 1990s after natural disasters and government mismanagement devastated the country’s economy.

In July, the World Food Programme warned that six million people were in urgent need of food aid, following severe flooding last year.

Most households had cut their food intake and more people are scavenging for wild foods, WFP assessors found.

August 7, 2008

Bush chides Beijing over rights

Bush chides Beijing over rights

US President George W Bush has expressed “deep concerns” over China’s human rights record in a speech on the eve of the Beijing Olympics.

“The US believes the people of China deserve the fundamental liberty that is the natural right of all human beings,” he said in the Thai capital Bangkok.

He praised China’s economy but said only respect for human rights would let it realise its full potential.

Mr Bush has been criticised by some campaigners for going to the Games.

He was due to fly to Beijing following the speech in Bangkok, a stop on his final trip to Asia before he leaves office in January.

The wide-ranging address, which included criticism of the regime in Burma, was more nuanced than Mr Bush’s past speeches on China.

It is unlikely to cause much offence in China, our correspondent says, and many people will see it more as a valedictory speech for Mr Bush’s record in Asia rather than an outline of future US policy.

‘Firm opposition’

President Bush said he was optimistic about China’s future and said change in China would arrive “on its own terms”.

Young people who grow up with the freedom to trade goods will ultimately demand the freedom to trade ideas…
George W Bush
US president

But his criticisms of China’s human rights record were clear.

“America stands in firm opposition to China’s detention of political dissidents, human rights advocates and religious activists,” he said.

When it was controversially awarded the games in 2001 by the International Olympic Committee, Beijing promised to make improvements in human rights, media freedoms and the provision of health and education.

But campaigners, such as Amnesty International, say Chinese activists have been jailed, people made homeless, journalists detained and websites blocked, while there has been increased use of labour camps and prison beatings.

In March, China suppressed violent anti-government protests in Tibet. Beijing said rioters killed at least 19 people, but Tibetan exiles said security forces killed dozens of protesters in the worst unrest in Tibet for 20 years.

The Dalai Lama, Tibet’s exiled Buddhist leader, rejected Beijing’s claims he was behind the riots and said he expressed good wishes for the success of Games.

On Thursday, at least 1,500 Buddhists were holding a protest in the Nepalese capital Kathmandu against what they called China’s violation of religious freedom in Tibet. Correspondents say there have been scuffles with police.

In Beijing, police dragged away three US Christians who tried to demonstrate on Tiananmen Square in support of religious freedom.

Four pro-Tibet activists from Britain and the US were arrested and held briefly in the city on Wednesday after a protest close to the Olympic stadium.

Burma refugees

In his address, Mr Bush said the US recognised that the growth sparked by China’s free market reforms was “good for the Chinese people” and the country’s’ purchasing power was “good for the world”.

On foreign policy, he commended China’s “critical leadership role” in the negotiations to end North Korea’s nuclear weapons programme, and the “constructive relationship” between Beijing and Washington over Taiwan.

He also called for an end to what he described as tyranny in Thailand’s neighbour, Burma.

Friday’s Olympic opening ceremony coincides with the 20th anniversary of a democracy uprising in Burma, which was crushed by the military.

First lady Laura Bush flew to the Thai-Burmese border to spend the day at the Mae La refugee camp where about 35,000 refugees live, having fled their homes.

August 5, 2008

Bush to face S Korea protesters

Filed under: Latest — Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , — expressyoureself @ 4:05 am

Bush to face S Korea protesters

US President George W Bush is en route to South Korea where he is expected to get a less than wholehearted welcome.

Thousands of protesters plan to voice their anger over the agreement with the US to restart imports of beef.

Mr Bush is going to Beijing for the opening of the Olympic Games, and will stop off in South Korea to discuss the military alliance with the US.

Talks will also focus on a planned free trade agreement and North Korea’s nuclear weapons’ programme.

But Mr Bush will also be given a taste of the public anger over the recent agreement to resume imports of American beef.

The deal sparked months of street protests because of fears that US cattle may be infected with mad cow disease.

The first shipments began arriving last week, but the demonstration organisers say that a large crowd will leave President Bush in no doubt about what they think of his government’s reassurances that US beef is safe.

In his summit meeting with South Korean President Lee Myung-bak, though, it is the situation north of the border that will feature prominently.

The US is planning to remove North Korea from its list of state sponsors of terrorism as a reward for stopping production of weapons grade plutonium.

But the communist state must first agree to allow international nuclear inspectors in, and there are intense efforts underway to try to secure agreement on how those inspections would work.

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