Kim says outbreak causing ‘great upheaval’ in North Korea

North Korea announced its first coronavirus infection more than two years into the pandemic Thursday, as leader Kim Jong Un called for raising COVID19 preventive measures to maximum levels. (AP/File Photo)
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Updated 14 May 2022

Kim says outbreak causing ‘great upheaval’ in North Korea

  • Two days after confirming its first cases of Covid-19, the government said more than half a million people had been sickened nationwide
  • On Friday, "over 174,440 persons had fever, at least 81,430 were fully recovered and 21 died in the country"

SEOUL: Leader Kim Jong Un says a Covid outbreak is causing ‘great upheaval’ in North Korea, which announced 21 new “fever” deaths Saturday.
Two days after confirming its first cases of Covid-19, the government said more than half a million people had been sickened nationwide.
Despite activating its “maximum emergency quarantine system” to slow the spread of disease through its unvaccinated population, North Korea is now reporting tens of thousands of new cases daily.
On Friday, “over 174,440 persons had fever, at least 81,430 were fully recovered and 21 died in the country,” the official Korean Central News Agency reported.
North Korea confirmed Thursday that the highly contagious omicron variant had been detected in the capital Pyongyang, with Kim ordering nationwide lockdowns.
It was the government’s first official admission of Covid cases and marked the failure of a two-year coronavirus blockade maintained at great economic cost since the start of the pandemic.
From late April to May 13, more than 524,440 people have fallen sick with fever, KCNA said, with 27 deaths in total.
The report did not specify whether the new cases and deaths had tested positive for Covid-19, but experts say the country will be struggling to test and diagnose on this scale.
North Korea has said only that one of the first six deaths it announced Friday had tested positive for Covid-19.
“It’s not a stretch to consider these ‘fever’ cases to all be Covid-19, given the North’s lack of testing capacity,” said Cheong Seong-chang of the Sejong Institute.
“The actual number of Covid cases could be higher than the fever figures due to many asymptomatic cases,” he said, adding that the pace of infection was growing “very fast.”
Kim said Saturday the “crisis” was causing “great upheaval,” as he oversaw a second Politburo meeting in three days to discuss the situation, KCNA reported.
“The spread of malignant disease comes to be a great upheaval in our country since the founding of the DPRK,” he said, referring to North Korea by its official name.
Kim is putting himself “front and center” of the country’s Covid response, said Leif-Eric Easley, a professor at Ewha University in Seoul.
“The language he’s used suggests the situation in North Korea is going to get worse before it gets better,” he told AFP.
“Engagers see this rhetoric preparing the way for international assistance, but Kim may be rallying a population on the verge of further sacrifice,” he added.
The meeting of the nation’s top officials discussed medicine distribution and other ways of “minimizing the losses in human lives,” KCNA said.
North Korea has a crumbling health system — one of the worst in the world — and no Covid vaccines, antiviral treatment drugs or mass testing capacity, experts say.
But the country will “actively learn” from China’s pandemic management strategy, Kim said, according to KCNA.
China, the world’s only major economy to still maintain a zero-Covid policy, is battling multiple omicron outbreaks — with some major cities, including financial hub Shanghai, under stay-at-home orders.
North Korea has previously turned down offers of Covid vaccines from China and the World Health Organization’s Covax scheme, but both Beijing and Seoul issued fresh offers of aid and vaccines this week.
Kim’s comments indicate North Korea “will try getting supplies from China,” said Yang Moo-jin, a professor at the University of North Korean Studies.
It also looks likely Pyongyang “will adopt a Chinese-style anti-virus response of regional lockdowns,” Yang added.
So far, Kim said Saturday, North Korea’s outbreak was not “an uncontrollable spread among regions” but transmission within areas that had been locked down, KCNA said.
Despite its Covid outbreak, new satellite imagery indicates that North Korea has resumed construction at a long-dormant nuclear reactor.
“I can’t tell you when the reactor will be ready to go, but it is about 10x larger than the existing reactor at Yongbyon,” Jeffrey Lewis of the Middlebury Institute of International Studies wrote in a Twitter thread Saturday.
It would produce 10 times more plutonium for nuclear weapons, he said, adding: “This would make good on Kim’s pledge to increase the number of nuclear weapons.”
The United States and South Korea have warned that Kim is preparing to conduct another nuclear test — which would be the regime’s seventh — and that it could come any day now.
Analysts have warned Kim could speed up his nuclear test plans in a bid to “distract” North Korea’s population from a disastrous Covid-19 outbreak.


Zelensky: Only ‘diplomacy’ can end Ukraine war

Updated 9 sec ago

Zelensky: Only ‘diplomacy’ can end Ukraine war

  • War ‘will be bloody, there will be fighting but will only definitively end through diplomacy’
KYIV: The Ukraine war can only be resolved through “diplomacy,” Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said Saturday amid a deadlock in negotiations between Kyiv and Moscow.
“The end will be through diplomacy,” he told a Ukrainian television channel. The war “will be bloody, there will be fighting but will only definitively end through diplomacy.”
“Discussions between Ukraine and Russia will decidedly take place. Under what format I don’t know — with intermediaries, without them, in a broader group, at presidential level,” he said.
“There are things that can only be reached at the negotiating table,” he said.” We want everything to return (to as it was before)” but “Russia does not want that,” he said, without elaborating.
The results of negotiations, which could have a variety of subjects “according to the timing of the meeting,” would have to be “fair” for Ukraine, Zelensky stressed.
The president spoke of a document about security guarantees for his nation, saying it would be signed by “friends and partners of Ukraine, without Moscow.” A bilateral discussion would be held with Russia at the same time, he added.
He also recalled Kyiv’s absolute precondition for continuing talks that Russia does not kill Ukrainian troops who defended the Azovstal steelworks in Mariupol.
Zelensky noted Russian troops “offered the possibility, found a way for these people to come out alive,” from Azovstal.
“The most important thing for me is to save the maximum number of people and soldiers.”
According to Moscow 2,439 Ukrainians have surrendered at the plant since May 16, the final 500 on Friday.
On Tuesday, Kyiv’s lead negotiator Mykhaylo Podolyak said talks with Russia were “on hold” after taking place regularly in the earlier stages of the conflict but without substantial results.
The following day Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov accused Kyiv authorities of not wanting to continue talks to end hostilities.
“Talks are indeed not moving forward and we note the complete lack of will of Ukrainian negotiators to continue this process,” he said.
The last talks took place on April 22, according to Russian news agencies.
After failing to take Kyiv following the February 24 invasion of Ukraine, Russian troops are now concentrating on the east of the country, where fierce clashes are ongoing.

Australians vote to determine conservative government future

Updated 47 min 34 sec ago

Australians vote to determine conservative government future

  • Opposition leader Anthony Albanese’s center-left Labour Party is a favorite to win its first election since 2007

CANBERRA: Vote counting started in Australia’s election on Saturday that will decide whether Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s conservative government can defy odds and rule for a fourth three-year term.
Opposition leader Anthony Albanese’s center-left Labour Party is a favorite to win its first election since 2007. But Morrison defied the opinion polls in 2019 by leading his coalition to a narrow victory.
His coalition holds the narrowest of majorities — 76 seats in the 151-member House of Representatives, where parties need a majority to form a government.
Both leaders campaigned in Melbourne on Saturday morning before voting in their hometown of Sydney.
Labor is promising more spending on care for children and the elderly. The coalition is promising better economic management as Australia’s deficit soars because of the pandemic.
Morrison said if reelected, his government would deliver lower taxes as well as downward pressure on interest rates and costs of living.
“It’s a choice about who can best manage our economy and our finances because a strong economy is what guarantees your future,” Morrison said.
A federal judge ordered the removal of mostly green-colored campaign signs near Melbourne polling stations that urged voters to “Put Labor Last.” The signs were designed to look like they were authorized by the Australian Greens, an environmental party that prefers the policies of Labor to Morrison’s coalition. But a business group was responsible for them.
Albanese went with his partner Jodie Haydon, his 21-year-old son Nathan Albanese and his cavoodle Toto to vote at the Marrickville Town Hall in his inner-Sydney electorate.
Albanese would not be drawn into saying whether Toto would move into the prime minister’s official residence in Sydney or Canberra if Labor wins.
“We’re not getting ahead of ourselves,” Albanese said. “I’m very positive and hopeful about a good outcome tonight.”
He referred to his humble upbringing as the only child of a single mother who became a disabled pensioner and lived in government housing.
“When you come from where I’ve come from, one of the advantages that you have is that you don’t get ahead of yourself. Everything in life’s a bonus,” Albanese said.
Morrison voted with his wife Jenny at the Lilli Pilli Public School in his southern Sydney electorate.
He later used the rare interception of a suspected asylum seeker boat attempting to enter Australian waters as a reason why voters should reelect his government.
Australian Border Force said in a statement the boat had been intercepted in a “likely attempt to illegally enter Australia from Sri Lanka.”
The Australian policy was to return those on board to their point of departure, the statement said.
Morrison argues Labor would be weaker on preventing people smugglers from trafficking asylum seekers.
“I’ve been here to stop this boat, but in order for me to be there to stop those that may come from here, you need to vote Liberal and Nationals today,” Morrison told reporters, referring to his coalition.
The boat carrying 15 passengers was intercepted near the Australian Indian Ocean territory of Christmas Island on Saturday morning, The Weekend Australian newspaper reported.
The number of asylum seekers arriving in Australian waters by boat peaked at 20,000 in 2013, the year Morrison’s coalition was first elected.
Morrison’s first government role was overseeing a military-led operation that turned back asylum seeker boats and virtually ended the people trafficking trade from Asia.
The first polling stations closed on the country’s east coast at 6 p.m. (0800 GMT). The west coast is two hours behind.
Due to the pandemic, around half of Australia’s 17 million electors have voted early or applied for postal votes, which will likely slow the count.
Voting is compulsory for adult citizens and 92 percent of registered voters cast ballots at the last election.
Early polling for reasons of travel or work began two weeks ago and the Australian Electoral Commission will continue collecting postal votes for another two weeks.
The government changed regulations on Friday to enable people recently infected with COVID-19 to vote over the phone.
Electoral Commissioner Tom Rogers said more than 7,000 polling stations opened as planned and on time across Australia despite 15 percent of polling staff falling sick this week with COVID-19 and flu.
Albanese said he had thought Morrison would have called the election last weekend because Australia’s prime minister is expected at a Tokyo summit on Tuesday with US President Joe Biden, Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
“If we get a clear outcome today then whoever is prime minister will be on a plane to Tokyo on Monday, which isn’t ideal, I’ve got to say, immediately after a campaign,” Albanese said.
Analysts have said that Morrison left the election until the latest date available to him to give himself more time to reduce Labor’s lead in opinion polls.
The closely watched Newspoll published in The Australian newspaper on Saturday put Labor ahead with 53 percent of voter support.
The poll surveyed 2,188 voters across Australia from May 13 to 19 and had a 2.9 percentage points margin of error.
At the last election in 2019, the split of votes between the government and Labor was 51.5 percent to 48.5 percent — the exact opposite of the result that Australia’s five most prominent polls including Newspoll had predicted.
As well as campaigning against Labor, Morrison’s conservative Liberal Party is fighting off a new challenge from so-called teal independent candidates to key government lawmakers’ reelection in party strongholds.
The teal independents are marketed as a greener shade than the Liberal Party’s traditional blue color and want stronger government action on reducing Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions than either the government or Labor are proposing.
The government aims to reduce Australia’s emissions by 26 percent to 28 percent below 2005 levels by 2030. Labor has promised a 43 percent reduction.


Russian military says it destroyed Western arms consignment in Ukraine

Updated 23 min 52 sec ago

Russian military says it destroyed Western arms consignment in Ukraine

  • Moscow also said Russia had struck numerous Ukrainian command posts

LONDON: The Russian military said on Saturday it had destroyed a major consignment of Western arms in Ukraine’s Zhytomyr region, west of Kyiv, using sea-launched Kalibr cruise missiles.
The defense ministry said in a statement the strike took out “a large batch of weapons and military equipment delivered from the USA and European countries” and intended for Ukrainian troops in the eastern Donbas region where the fighting is concentrated.
Reuters could not independently verify the report, which also said Russian missiles had struck fuel storage facilities near Odesa on the Black Sea coast and shot down two Ukrainian Su-25 aircraft and 14 drones.
In its latest update on the war, which Russia calls a “special military operation,” the defense ministry also said Russia had struck numerous Ukrainian command posts.
The West has stepped up weapons supplies to Ukraine since Russia’s Feb. 24 invasion and Russia’s military is trying to intercept and destroy them. Moscow says Western arms deliveries for Kyiv, and the imposition of drastic sanctions against the Russian economy, amount to a “proxy war” by the United States and its allies.


US, others walk out of APEC talks over Russia’s Ukraine invasion – officials

Updated 21 May 2022

US, others walk out of APEC talks over Russia’s Ukraine invasion – officials

  • Representatives from Canada, New Zealand, Japan and Australia joined the Americans

BANGKOK: Representatives of the United States and several other nations walked out of an Asia-Pacific trade ministers meeting in Bangkok on Saturday to protest Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, officials said.
The walkout was “an expression of disapproval at Russia’s illegal war of aggression in Ukraine and its economic impact in the APEC region,” one diplomat said.
Representatives from Canada, New Zealand, Japan and Australia joined the Americans, led by Trade Representative Katherine Tai, in walking out of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) meeting, two Thai officials and two international diplomats said.
Russia invaded Ukraine on Feb. 24, saying it aimed to demilitarize and “denazify” its neighbor. Ukraine and the West say President Vladimir Putin launched an unprovoked war of aggression, which has claimed thousands of civilian lives, sent millions of Ukrainians fleeing and caused economic fallout around the world.
Another diplomat said the five countries that staged the protest wanted “stronger language on Russia’s war” in the group’s final statement to be issued on Sunday.
“The meeting will not be a failure if (a joint statement) cannot be issued,” Thai Commerce Minister Jurin Laksanawisit told reporters, adding that the meeting was “progressing well” despite the walk out.
The walkout took place while Russian Economy Minister Maxim Reshetnikov was delivering remarks at the opening of the two-day meeting from the group of 21 economies.
The delegations from five countries that staged the protest returned to the meeting after Reshetnikov finished speaking, a Thai official said.


Britain wants to arm Moldova to protect it from Russian threat — The Telegraph

Updated 21 May 2022

Britain wants to arm Moldova to protect it from Russian threat — The Telegraph

Britain wants to send modern weaponry to Moldova to protect it from the threat of invasion by Russia, The Telegraph reported, citing Foreign Secretary Liz Truss.
She told the newspaper that Russian President Vladimir Putin was determined to create a “greater Russia” even though his invasion of Ukraine had failed to achieve quick success.
Russia has called the invasion it launched on Feb. 24 a “special military operation” aimed at disarming Ukraine and ridding it off radical anti-Russian nationalists. Ukraine and its allies have dismissed this as a baseless pretext for war.
Moldova, which borders Ukraine to the south west, is not a member of the NATO alliance.
Truss said talks were taking place to make sure that Moldova’s defenses could deter any future attack.
“I would want to see Moldova equipped to NATO standard. This is a discussion we’re having with our allies,” she told The Telegraph.
“Putin has been absolutely clear about his ambitions to create a greater Russia. And just because his attempts to take Kyiv weren’t successful doesn’t mean he’s abandoned those ambitions,” she said.
If Truss’s plans are adopted, NATO members would provide modern weaponry to Moldova, replacing its Soviet-era equipment, and will train soldiers on how to use it.