Kim threatens to use nukes amid US, South Korea tensions

Kim Jong Un's military earlier test-launched nuclear-capable missiles that place the US mainland and South Korea within striking distance. (AP)
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Updated 28 July 2022

Kim threatens to use nukes amid US, South Korea tensions

  • Kim Jong Un's speech to war veterans meant to boost internal unity in the impoverished country
  • The leader accused the US of “demonizing” North Korea to justify its hostile policies

SEOUL, South Korea: North Korean leader Kim Jong Un warned he’s ready to use his nuclear weapons in potential military conflicts with the United States and South Korea, state media said Thursday, as he unleashed fiery rhetoric against rivals he says are pushing the Korean Peninsula to the brink of war.
Kim’s speech to war veterans on the 69th anniversary of the end of the 1950-53 Korean War was apparently meant to boost internal unity in the impoverished country amid pandemic-related economic difficulties. While Kim has increasingly threatened his rivals with nuclear weapons, it’s unlikely that he would use them first against the superior militaries of the US and its allies, observers say.
“Our armed forces are completely prepared to respond to any crisis, and our country’s nuclear war deterrent is also ready to mobilize its absolute power dutifully, exactly and swiftly in accordance with its mission,” Kim said in Wednesday’s speech, according to the official Korean Central News Agency.
He accused the United States of “demonizing” North Korea to justify its hostile policies. He said US-South Korea military drills targeting North Korea show the US’s “double standards” and “gangster-like” aspects because it brands North Korea’s routine military activities — an apparent reference to its missile tests — as provocations or threats.
Kim also alleged the new South Korean government of President Yoon Suk Yeol is led by “confrontation maniacs” and “gangsters” who have gone further than previous South Korean conservative governments. Since taking office in May, the Yoon government has moved to strengthen Seoul’s military alliance with the United States and bolster its capacity to neutralize North Korean nuclear threats including a preemptive strike capability.
“Talking about military action against our nation, which possesses absolute weapons that they fear the most, is preposterous and is very dangerous suicidal action,” Kim said. “Such a dangerous attempt will be immediately punished by our powerful strength and the Yoon Suk Yeol government and his military will be annihilated.”
Moon Hong-sik, a deputy spokesperson at the South Korean Defense Ministry, reiterated Thursday an earlier position that South Korea has been boosting its military capacity and joint defense posture with the United States to cope with escalating North Korean nuclear threats. South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said the military maintains a firm readiness.
In April, Kim said North Korea could preemptively use nuclear weapons if threatened, saying they would “never be confined to the single mission of war deterrent.” Kim’s military has also test-launched nuclear-capable missiles that place both the US mainland and South Korea within striking distance. US and South Korean officials have repeatedly said in the past few months that North Korea is ready to conduct its first nuclear test in five years.
Kim is seeking greater public support as his country’s economy has been battered by pandemic-related border shutdowns, US-led sanctions and his own mismanagement. In May, North Korea also admitted to its first COVID-19 outbreak, though the scale of illness and death is widely disputed in a country that lacks the modern medical capacity to handle it.
“Kim’s rhetoric inflates external threats to justify his militarily focused and economically struggling regime,” said Leif-Eric Easley, a professor at Ewha University in Seoul. “North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs are in violation of international law, but Kim tries to depict his destabilizing arms buildup as a righteous effort at self-defense.”
Experts say North Korea will likely intensify its threats against the United States and South Korea as the allies prepare to expand summertime exercises. In recent years, the South Korean and US militaries have canceled or downsized some of their regular exercises due to concerns about COVID-19 and to support now-stalled US-led diplomacy aimed at convincing North Korea to give up its nuclear program in return for economic and political benefits.
During Wednesday’s speech, Kim said his government recently set tasks to improve its military capability more speedily to respond to military pressure campaigns by its enemies, suggesting that he intends to go ahead with an expected nuclear test.
But Cheong Seong-Chang at the private Sejong Institute in South Korea said North Korea won’t likely conduct its nuclear test before China, its major ally and biggest aid benefactor, holds its Communist Party convention in the autumn. He said China worries that a North Korean nuclear test could give the United States a justification to boost its security partnerships with its allies that it could use to check Chinese influence in the region.
North Korea recently said it is moving to overcome the COVID-19 outbreak amid plummeting fever cases, but experts say it’s unclear if the country can lift its strict restrictions soon because it could face a viral resurgence later this year. During Wednesday’s event, Kim, veterans and others didn’t wear masks, state media photos showed. On Thursday, North Korea reported 11 fever cases, a huge drop from the peak of about 400,000 a day in May.
North Korea has rejected US and South Korean offers for medical relief items. It has also said it won’t return to talks with the United States unless it first abandons its hostile polices on the North, in an apparent reference to US-led sanctions and US-South Korean military drills.


Russia likely planning to encircle Donetsk Oblast town of Bakhmut, Britain says

Updated 12 sec ago

Russia likely planning to encircle Donetsk Oblast town of Bakhmut, Britain says

  • Capture of the town would have limited operational value
  • But it can potentially allow Russia to threaten Kramatorsk and Sloviansk
Russia is likely planning to encircle the Donetsk Oblast town of Bakhmut with tactical advances to the north and south, Britain’s defense ministry said on Saturday.
The capture of the town would have limited operational value but it can potentially allow Russia to threaten Kramatorsk and Sloviansk, the ministry added in a daily intelligence update.
“There is a realistic possibility that Bakhmut’s capture has become primarily a symbolic, political objective for Russia,” the ministry said in the update posted on Twitter.

UN human rights chief decries new Myanmar death sentences

Updated 03 December 2022

UN human rights chief decries new Myanmar death sentences

  • Military-installed government using capital punishment as a tool to crush opposition
  • At least seven university students were sentenced to death behind closed doors on Wednesday

BANGKOK: Myanmar’s military-installed government has sentenced more critics to death, bringing the total to 139, and is using capital punishment as a tool to crush opposition, the UN high commissioner for human rights said Friday.
High Commissioner Volker Turk said at least seven university students were sentenced to death behind closed doors on Wednesday, and there are reports that as many as four more youth activists were sentenced on Thursday.
“The military continues to hold proceedings in secretive courts in violation of basic principles of fair trial and contrary to core judicial guarantees of independence and impartiality,” Turk said in a statement. “Military courts have consistently failed to uphold any degree of transparency contrary to the most basic due process or fair trial guarantees.”
The military seized power in February last year, ousting the elected government of Aung San Suu Kyi. The army’s action was met with widespread peaceful protests that were quashed with lethal force, triggering armed resistance that some UN experts have characterized as civil war.
Turk said the military-installed government has arrested nearly 16,500 people for opposing the army takeover, including about 1,700 who have been convicted in secret courts without access to lawyers.
The Students’ Union of Dagon University in Yangon, the country’s largest city, announced Thursday on its Facebook page that seven university students between the ages of 18 and 24 who were arrested on April 21 had been sentenced to death Wednesday by a military court in Yangon’s Insein Prison.
An executive member of the Dagon University Students’ Union told The Associated Press that the seven were accused of links to an urban guerrilla group opposed to military rule and convicted of murder for allegedly taking part in shooting a bank branch manager in April.
In late July, the government hanged four political activists, in the country’s first executions in at least three decades.
The hangings prompted condemnations from Western nations and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, which has sought to defuse the crisis with a five-point plan that the military government has failed to implement.
“By resorting to use death sentences as a political tool to crush opposition, the military confirms its disdain for the efforts by ASEAN and the international community at large to end violence and create the conditions for a political dialogue to lead Myanmar out of a human rights crisis created by the military,” Turk said.


US whistleblower Snowden gets a Russian passport – TASS

Updated 03 December 2022

US whistleblower Snowden gets a Russian passport – TASS

MOSCOW: Former US intelligence contractor Edward Snowden, who exposed the scale of secret surveillance by the National Security Agency (NSA), has sworn an oath of allegiance to Russia and received a Russian passport, TASS reported on Friday.
“Yes, he got [a passport], he took the oath,” Anatoly Kucherena, Snowden’s lawyer, told the state news agency TASS.
“This is still a criminal investigative matter,” White House spokesman John Kirby told reporters on Friday, referring any questions about the report on Snowden to the US Department of Justice, which declined to comment.
US authorities have for years wanted Snowden returned to the United States to face a criminal trial on espionage charges.
President Vladimir Putin in September granted Russian citizenship to Snowden, who fled the United States after leaking secret files that revealed the extensive eavesdropping activities of the United States and its allies.
“I’m in Russia because the White House intentionally canceled my passport to trap me here. They downed the President of Bolivia’s diplomatic aircraft to prevent me from leaving, and continue to interfere with my freedom of movement to this day,” Snowden, 39, said on Twitter on Friday, referring to events from 2013.
Snowden was referring an incident in July 2013, when Bolivia complained that its presidential jet carrying Evo Morales from Russia to Bolivia had been rerouted and forced to land in Austria over suspicion that Snowden was on board.
Defenders of Snowden hail him as a modern-day dissident for exposing the extent of US spying and alleged violation of privacy. Opponents say he is a traitor who endangered lives by exposing the secret methods that Western spies use to listen in on hostile states and militants.


EU bans cough syrup chemical over severe allergies

Updated 02 December 2022

EU bans cough syrup chemical over severe allergies

  • The European Medicines Agency (EMA) recommended that treatments containing pholcodine should be withdrawn from sale
  • "Use of pholcodine in the 12 months before general anaesthesia... is a risk factor for developing an anaphylactic reaction"

THE HAGUE: Cough medicines containing the chemical pholcodine should be banned due to the risk of potentially deadly allergic reactions in people under general anaesthetic, the European Union’s drug regulator said Friday.
The European Medicines Agency (EMA) recommended that treatments containing pholcodine, which is used in adults and children to treat dry coughs, should be withdrawn from sale.
“Use of pholcodine in the 12 months before general anaesthesia... is a risk factor for developing an anaphylactic reaction” to muscle relaxants in the anaesthetic, the Amsterdam-based watchdog said.
Anaphylactic shock is a “sudden, severe and life-threatening allergic reaction,” it added.
Medicines with the chemical were “being withdrawn from the EU market and will therefore no longer be available by prescription or over the counter.”
Opioid-based pholcodine has been used as a cough medicine since the 1950s.
Medicines containing the chemical are currently authorized in the EU countries of Belgium, Croatia, France, Ireland, Lithuania, Luxembourg and Slovenia, under brand names including Dimetane, Biocalyptol and Broncalene.
France had said in September that pholcodine could be banned due to the risk of allergies.
In April 2020 at the height of the Covid-19 pandemic, when a dry cough was one of the main symptoms of the disease, French authorities had recommended against the use of syrups with pholcodine.
The EMA in January had recommended updating packaging to warn of the risk of allergies, based on new data.


Parcels with animals’ eyes sent to Ukrainian embassies

Updated 02 December 2022

Parcels with animals’ eyes sent to Ukrainian embassies

  • The “bloody parcels” were received by the Ukrainian embassies in Hungary, the Netherlands, Poland, Croatia, Italy and Czech
  • Foreign Ministry spokesman Oleh Nikolenko said that “we are studying the meaning of this message”

KYIV: Ukrainian embassies and consulates in six European countries have received packages containing animals’ eyes in recent days, a Ukrainian official said Friday.
Foreign Ministry spokesman Oleh Nikolenko wrote on Facebook that the “bloody parcels” were received by the Ukrainian embassies in Hungary, the Netherlands, Poland, Croatia and Italy, as well as by consulates in Naples, Italy; Krakow, Poland and the Czech city of Brno. He said that “we are studying the meaning of this message.”
Nikolenko said they arrived after a package containing an explosive device that was sent to the Ukrainian Embassy in Madrid ignited upon opening on Wednesday and injured an employee. That was one of multiple explosive parcels found in Spain this week.
In addition, the entrance to the residence of the Ukrainian ambassador to the Vatican was vandalized and the embassy in Kazakhstan was warned of a mine attack, though that wasn’t confirmed, Nikolenko said.
All Ukrainian embassies and consulates have stepped up security measures. Nikolenko quoted Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba as saying that “we have reason to believe that a well-planned campaign of terror and intimidation of Ukrainian embassies and consulates is taking place.”