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

  • 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.


In Pyrenees, Spain police hunt French double murder suspect

Updated 6 sec ago

In Pyrenees, Spain police hunt French double murder suspect

MADRID: Spanish police were hunting the central Pyrenees on Wednesday for a man suspected of killing two teachers in a French village across the border, a spokeswoman said.
The pair were shot dead on Monday afternoon in a village near the town of Tarbes, where they both worked, with the suspected gunman fleeing on a motorcycle, a source close to the French inquiry told AFP.
His motorcycle was found abandoned on the Spanish side of the border in the northeastern Aragon region, prompting Spanish police to pick up the search on Tuesday, a source close to the inquiry told AFP.
Since then police had been carrying out “a full search” of the area around Jaca, a town that lies about 200 kilometers (124 miles) southwest of Tarbes, a police spokeswoman told AFP.
The search continued through the night and “is ongoing,” she said, without giving further details.
Neither French nor Spanish police gave any details about the suspect’s identity.
The teachers were shot dead in Pouyastruc village on Monday, prosecutors said.
The first victim, a 32-year-old woman, was found lying in the street by neighbors, while other, a man of 55, was found dead in his home, just meters away, the prosecutor said.
The suspect, who is in his 30s, was the woman’s former partner, a source close to the inquiry said.
They had two children together and were in the process of separating, suggesting the murders may have been a crime of passion.
The woman, identified as Aurelie Pardon, taught French at the school in Tarbes while the man, Gabriel Fourmigue, was a sports teacher at the same establishment who was known for representing France in bobsleigh at international level in the early 1990s.

British PM Johnson: My job is to ‘keep going’

Johnson made the remarks in parliament in response to a question from a lawmaker in his own party. (AFP)
Updated 50 min 36 sec ago

British PM Johnson: My job is to ‘keep going’

  • Johnson made the remarks in parliament in response to a question from a lawmaker in his own party

LONDON: British Prime Minister Boris Johnson defied growing calls for him to step down on Wednesday, telling lawmakers he would “keep going” following a wave of resignations from his government including those of two key ministers.
Johnson made the remarks in parliament in response to a question from a lawmaker in his own party who asked if the prime minister thought there were any circumstances in which he should resign.
“Clearly, if there were circumstances in which I felt it was impossible for the government to go on and discharge the mandate that we’ve been given, or if I felt, for instance, that we were being frustrated in our desire to support the Ukrainian people ... then I would,” Johnson told parliament.
“But frankly, the job of a prime minister in difficult circumstances when you’ve been handed a colossal mandate is to keep going,” Johnson said. “And that’s what I’m going to do.”


Taliban leader: Afghan soil will not be used to launch attacks

Updated 58 min 20 sec ago

Taliban leader: Afghan soil will not be used to launch attacks

  • Since their takeover last year, they have repeatedly said Afghanistan would not be used as a launching pad for attacks against other countries

ISLAMABAD: Taliban supreme leader Mullah Haibatullah Akhundzada said Wednesday that Afghan soil will not be used to launch attacks against other countries, and he asked the international community to not interfere in Afghanistan’s internal affairs.
The Taliban say they are adhering to an agreement they signed with the United States in 2020 — before retaking power — in which they promised to fight terrorists. Since their takeover last year, they have repeatedly said Afghanistan would not be used as a launching pad for attacks against other countries.
“We assure our neighbors, the region and the world that we will not allow anyone to use our territory to threaten the security of other countries. We also want other countries not to interfere in our internal affairs,” Akhundzada said in an address ahead of the Eid Al-Adha holiday.
The Taliban were ousted by a US-led coalition in 2001 for harboring Osama bin Laden, mastermind of the 9/11 attacks in the United States. The religious group captured power again in mid-August, during the chaotic last weeks of the US and NATO withdrawal from Afghanistan.
The international community has been wary of any recognition or cooperation with the Taliban, especially after they restricted the rights of women and minorities — measures that harken back to their harsh rule when they were last in power in the late 1990s.
Akhundzada, the spiritual chief of the Taliban, has remained a reclusive figure. He rose to leader of the Islamist movement in a swift transition of power after a 2016 US drone strike killed his predecessor, Mullah Akhtar Mansour.
After taking over, Akhundzada secured the backing of Al-Qaeda chief Ayman Al-Zawahiri, who showered the cleric with praise, calling him “the emir of the faithful.” The endorsement by bin Laden’s heir helped seal his jihadist credentials with the Taliban’s longtime allies.
However, in his Eid message Akhundzada said: “Within the framework of mutual interaction and commitment, we want good, diplomatic, economic and political relations with the world, including the United States, and we consider this in the interest of all sides.”
A three-day assembly of Islamic clerics and tribal elders in the Afghan capital that concluded Saturday included pledges of support for the Taliban and calls on the international community to recognize the country’s Taliban-led government.
In a surprise development, the reclusive Akhundzada came to Kabul from his base in southern Kandahar province and addressed the gathering Friday. It was believed to be his first visit to the Afghan capital since the Taliban seized power.
In an hour-long speech at the assembly carried by state radio, Akhundzada called the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan a “victory for the Muslim world.”
A powerful earthquake in June killed more than 1,000 people in eastern Afghanistan, igniting yet another crisis for the economically struggling country. Overstretched aid groups already keeping millions of Afghans alive rushed supplies to the quake victims, but most countries responded tepidly to Taliban calls for international help.
The international cut-off of Afghanistan’s financing has deepened the country’s economic collapse and fueled its humanitarian crises.


China foreign minister seeks ‘new golden era’ of ties with Philippines

Updated 06 July 2022

China foreign minister seeks ‘new golden era’ of ties with Philippines

  • Many analysts saw the election of Ferdinand Marcos Jr as more favorable to China than the US

MANILA: China’s foreign minister said on Wednesday Beijing was ready to work with new Philippines President Ferdinand Marcos Jr to help usher in what he called a “new golden era” in the countries’ relationship.
That relationship “turned a new page” with the election of Marcos, said Wang Yi, who is visiting Southeast Asia at a time when Philippines ally the United States is seeking to boost its influence in the region.
“We highly appreciate President Marcos’ recent commitment to pursuing friendly policy toward China and we speak highly of these recent statements that have sent out a very positive signal to the outside world,” Wang said in a meeting with his Philippines counterpart, Enrique Manalo. Many analysts saw the election of Marcos, the son of the late strongman ousted in a 1986 uprising, as more favorable to China than the United States, but the new president has been clear in public statements that close ties with Beijing will not be at the expense of sovereignty.
China’s assertiveness and conduct in waters off the Philippines has long been a source of diplomatic tension, but Marcos on Tuesday said he wanted their relationship to be about more than a maritime dispute.
Wang said China was one with Marcos in his desire to deepen and strengthen ties.
“We are ready to work toward that same direction with the Philippines and to plan for our cooperation going forward in all areas,” Wang said.
“I’m confident that with the two sides working together, we can surely open a new golden era for the bilateral relationship.”
Marcos has a tricky balancing act in boosting business ties with China while maintaining a close relationship with defense ally the United States, a former colonial power that still holds considerable sway among the military and the public.


July 4 gunman charged with seven counts of murder

Updated 06 July 2022

July 4 gunman charged with seven counts of murder

  • Robert Crimo, 21, was arrested on Monday, several hours after the attack on a festive Independence Day crowd

HIGHLAND PARK, United States: A 21-year-old man who allegedly opened fire on a July 4 parade in a wealthy Chicago suburb while disguised in women’s clothing was charged with seven counts of first-degree murder on Tuesday, prosecutors said.
Robert Crimo, 21, was arrested on Monday, several hours after the attack on a festive Independence Day crowd.
“There will be more charges,” Lake County State’s Attorney Eric Rinehart told reporters. “We anticipate dozens of more charges centered around each of the victims.”
Police spokesman Christopher Covelli said the death toll rose to seven on Tuesday after one of the wounded victims died in hospital. More than 35 people were injured.
Among the dead were Kevin McCarthy, 37, and his wife, Irina, 35 — the parents of a two-year-old boy who was found wandering alone after the shooting, according to CBS News.
Covelli said no motive had been established for the attack, which sent panicked parade-goers fleeing for their lives.
“We do believe Crimo pre-planned this attack for several weeks,” and that he acted alone, he said.
“We have no information to suggest at this point it was racially motivated, motivated by religion or any other protected status,” he added.
He said Crimo has a history of mental health issues and threatening behavior.
Police had been called twice to Crimo’s home in 2019, once to investigate a suicide attempt and the second time because a relative said he had threatened to “kill everyone” in the family, he said.
Police removed 16 knives, a dagger and a sword from the home but did not make any arrests, he said.
Covelli said Crimo used a fire escape to access the roof of a building overlooking the parade route and fired more than 70 rounds from a rifle “similar to an AR-15,” one of several guns he had purchased legally.
“Crimo was dressed in women’s clothing and investigators believe he did this to conceal his facial tattoos and his identity and help him during the escape with the other people who were fleeing the chaos,” he said.
Covelli said Crimo went to his mother’s nearby home after the shooting and borrowed her car. He was captured about eight hours later after a brief chase.
He also said the authorities were investigating disturbing online posts and videos made by Crimo.
The shooting has left the upscale suburb in shock.
“We’re all still reeling,” Mayor Nancy Rotering told NBC’s Today show. “Everybody knows somebody who was affected by this directly.”
The mayor said she personally knew the suspected gunman when he was a young boy in the Cub Scouts.
“How did somebody become this angry, this hateful to then take it out on innocent people who literally were just having a family day out?” Rotering asked.
Crimo, whose father unsuccessfully ran for mayor and owns a store in Highland Park called Bob’s Pantry and Deli, was an amateur musician billing himself as “Awake the Rapper.”
The younger Crimo’s online postings include violent content that alluded to guns and shootings.
One YouTube video posted eight months ago featured cartoons of a gunman and people being shot.
“I need to just do it,” a voice-over says.
It adds: “It is my destiny. Everything has led up to this. Nothing can stop me, not even myself.”
Crimo, who has the word “Awake” tattooed over an eyebrow, is seen sporting an “FBI” hat in numerous photos and a Trump flag as a cape in one picture.
The shooting is the latest in a wave of gun violence plaguing the United States, where approximately 40,000 deaths a year are caused by firearms, according to the Gun Violence Archive.