North Korea declares ‘shining victory’ over virus, blames Seoul

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un shakes hands with a health official in Pyongyang on Aug. 10, 2022, as he declared victory over COVID-19. (Korea News Service via AP)
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Updated 11 August 2022

North Korea declares ‘shining victory’ over virus, blames Seoul

  • Kim Jong Un's powerful sister blamed leaflets from the South for causing the COVID outbreak in her isolated country
  • Seoul expresses regrets over the groundless claims and  threatening remarks by North Korea's leader

SEOUL, South Korea: North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has declared victory over COVID-19 and ordered preventive measures eased just three months after acknowledging an outbreak, claiming the country’s widely disputed success would be recognized as a global health miracle.
The North’s official Korean Central News Agency also reported Thursday that Kim’s sister said her brother had suffered a fever and blamed the North Korean outbreak on leaflets flown from across the border from South Korea, while warning of deadly retaliation.
Some experts believe North Korea has manipulated the scale of the outbreak to help Kim maintain absolute control of the country amid mounting economic difficulties. They believe the victory statement signals Kim’s aim to move to other priorities but are concerned his sister’s remarks portend a provocation.
South Korea’s Unification Ministry, which handles inter-Korean affairs, issued a statement expressing strong regret over North Korea’s “extremely disrespectful and threatening comments” that were based on “ridiculous claims” about the source of its infections.
Since North Korea admitted to an omicron outbreak of the virus in May, it has reported about 4.8 million “fever cases” in its population of 26 million but only identified a fraction of them as COVID-19. It has claimed the outbreak has been slowing for weeks and just 74 people have died.
“Since we began operating the maximum emergency anti-epidemic campaign (in May), daily fever cases that reached hundreds of thousands during the early days of the outbreak were reduced to below 90,000 a month later and continuously decreased, and not a single case of fever suspected to be linked to the evil virus has been reported since July 29,” Kim said in his speech Wednesday, according to KCNA.
“For a country that has yet to administer a single vaccine shot, our success in overcoming the spread of the illness in such a short period of time and recovering safety in public health and making our nation a clean virus-free zone again is an amazing miracle that would be recorded in the world’s history of public health,” he said.
For Kim to declare victory against COVID-19 suggests that he wants to move on to other priorities, such as boosting a broken and heavily sanctioned economy further damaged by pandemic border closures or conducting a nuclear test, said Leif-Eric Easley, a professor of international studies at Ewha Womans University in Seoul.
South Korean and US officials have said North Korea could be gearing up for its first nuclear test in five years amid its torrid run of weapons tests this year that included its first demonstrations of intercontinental ballistic missiles since 2017.
The provocative testing activity underscores Kim’s dual intent to advance his arsenal and pressure the Biden administration over long-stalled negotiations aimed at leveraging its nukes for badly needed sanctions relief and security concessions, experts say.
Kim Jun-rak, a spokesperson for South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff, said Thursday the South Korean military was maintaining firm readiness and prepared for “various possibilities” of North Korean provocations.
The bellicose rhetoric of Kim’s sister, Kim Yo Jong, is concerning because it indicates she will try to blame any COVID-19 resurgence on the South and is also looking to justify North Korea’s next military provocation, Easley said.
North Korea first suggested in July that its COVID-19 outbreak began in people who had contact with objects carried by balloons flown from South Korea — a questionable and unscientific claim that appeared to be an attempt to hold its rival responsible.
Activists for years have flown balloons across the border to distribute hundreds of thousands of propaganda leaflets critical of Kim, and North Korea has often expressed fury at the activists and at South Korea’s leadership for not stopping them.
During Wednesday’s meeting, Kim Yo Jong reiterated those claims, calling the country’s virus crisis a “hysteric farce” kicked off by South Korea to escalate confrontation. She claimed that her brother had suffered fever symptoms and praised his “energetic and meticulous guidance” for bringing an “epoch-making miracle” in the fight against COVID-19.
“(South Korean) puppets are still thrusting leaflets and dirty objects into our territory. We must counter it toughly,” she said. “We have already considered various counteraction plans, but our countermeasure must be a deadly retaliatory one.”
Kim Yo Jong’s reference to Kim Jong Un’s illness wasn’t further explained.
Outside experts suspect the virus spread after North Korea briefly reopened its northern border with China to freight traffic in January and surged further following a military parade and other large-scale events in Pyongyang in April.
In May, Kim prohibited travel between cities and counties to slow the spread of the virus. But he also stressed that his economic goals should be met, which meant huge groups continued to gather at agricultural, industrial and construction sites.
At the virus meeting, Kim called for the easing of preventive measures and for the nation to maintain vigilance and effective border controls, citing the global spread of new coronavirus variants and monkeypox.


Past school shootings and mass killings of children around the world

Updated 14 sec ago

Past school shootings and mass killings of children around the world

  • Taliban gunmen massacred 134 students and 16 staff in an army-run Peshawar school in 2014
  • Ex-cop killed 34 people, including 23 children, during a knife and gun rampage in Thailand on Thursday

A former policeman killed 34 people, including 23 children, during a knife and gun rampage at a daycare center in northeast Thailand on Thursday, police said, before later shooting dead his wife and child at home and turning his weapon on himself.

Here are details of previous school shootings and mass killings of children around the world:

- UVALDE, TEXAS, May 24, 2022 — A gunman burst into a classroom in Uvalde, Texas, and shot dead 19 students, aged 9 to 11, along with two teachers.

- KABUL, AFGHANISTAN, May 8, 2021 — Three explosions by a school in Kabul killed at least 80 people, most of them schoolgirls.

- SANTA FE, TEXAS, May 18, 2018 — A 17-year-old student opened fire at his high school outside Houston, Texas, killing nine students and a teacher, before surrendering to officers.

- PARKLAND, FLORIDA, Feb. 14, 2018 — A former student at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, killed 14 students and three educators.

- PESHAWAR, PAKISTAN, Dec. 16, 2014 — Taliban gunmen massacred 134 students and 16 staff in a Peshawar school.

- NEWTOWN, CONNECTICUT, Dec. 14, 2012 — A heavily armed gunman killed 20 children from five- to 10-years old and six others, in a rampage at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut.

- UTOEYA ISLAND, NORWAY, July 22, 2011 — Far-right Norwegian extremist Anders Behring Breivik gunned down 69 mostly teenagers at a Labour Party youth camp on Utoeya island and killed another eight people with a car bomb in Oslo.

- BESLAN, RUSSIA, Sept. 1 2004 — 186 children were among 333 hostages who died in a chaotic storming of School No.1 in Beslan, after it was seized by rebels demanding Chechen independence.

- LITTLETON, COLORADO, April 20 1999 — Two student gunmen killed 12 other students and a teacher at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado, before killing themselves.

- DUNBLANE, SCOTLAND, March 13, 1996 — A gunman killed 16 children, mostly five-year-olds, and their teacher in Dunblane, Scotland.


Sri Lanka top court allows proceedings against former President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, others

Updated 37 min 28 sec ago

Sri Lanka top court allows proceedings against former President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, others

  • The case calls for accountability for the island nation’s leadership for its worst financial crisis in more than seven decades

COLOMBO: Sri Lanka’s top court has granted permission for proceedings against former President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, the rights group which filed the case against him said in a statement on Friday.
The court also agreed to allow proceedings against the country’s former Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa, its former finance minister and two of its former central bank governors.
The case, filed by rights group Transparency International, calls for accountability for the island nation’s leadership for its worst financial crisis in more than seven decades.


Police: 2 dead, 6 injured in stabbings along Las Vegas Strip

Updated 53 min 36 sec ago

Police: 2 dead, 6 injured in stabbings along Las Vegas Strip

  • The names of those wounded in the attack were not immediately released
  • Police described the suspect as a man in his 30s and said they were working to confirm his identity

LAS VEGAS: An attacker with a large kitchen knife killed two people and wounded six others in stabbings along the Las Vegas Strip before he was arrested Thursday, police said.
Three people were hospitalized in critical condition and another three were in stable condition, according to Las Vegas police, who said they began receiving 911 calls about the stabbings around 11:40 a.m. across the street from the Wynn casino and hotel.
The Clark County coroner’s office identified the victims who were killed as Brent Allan Hallett, 47, and Maris Mareen Digiovanni, 30, both Las Vegas residents, the Las Vegas Review-Journal reported.
The names of those wounded in the attack were not immediately released.
Police described the suspect as a man in his 30s and said they were working to confirm his identity. He is not a Las Vegas resident, according to Metropolitan Police Department Deputy Chief James LaRochelle.
The initial stabbing was unprovoked and on the eastern sidewalk of Las Vegas Boulevard. The suspect then headed south and stabbed others, LaRochelle said.
The man fled and was followed by 911 callers before he was taken into custody, authorities said. Police recovered the “large knife with a long blade” believed to have been used, LaRochelle said, calling the case a “hard-to-comprehend murder investigation.”
There were no other suspects in the case and “the Strip is secure,” Clark County Sheriff Joe Lombardo said.
Police said it was too early in their investigation to speculate on a possible motive for the stabbings.
“Locals and tourists are the victims of this crime,” Lombardo said.
Witnesses told Las Vegas TV stations that some of the victims appeared to be showgirls or street performers who take pictures with tourists on the Strip.
The suspect told a woman that he was a chef who wanted to take a picture with some of the showgirls with his knife, but he started stabbing people when the group declined the man’s offer, the woman told KTNV.
Jason Adams told KLAS that he witnessed the attack on a showgirl.
“This guy came, ran up, and started stabbing this lady in front of me and she ran around the escalators and she tried to get up under the bridge and her girlfriend was trying to help her,” Adams said, adding that the attack happened very quickly.
Pierre Fandrich, a tourist from Canada, told KTNV that he did not see the stabbing suspect as he was walking along the Strip. But he said he thought he heard “three or four showgirls laughing,” and it turned out to be screaming.
Fandrich said he saw “a lot of blood” as one woman ran across a bridge, one was on the ground, and another had a stab wound on her back as she tried to help the fallen woman.
Fandrich also told KTNV that he thought one of the victims fell from the bridge because there was so much blood on the ground.
Democratic Gov. Steve Sisolak posted a message on social media saying, “Our hearts are with all those affected by this tragedy.”
“At the State level, we will continue to work with partners in law enforcement to make resources available on the ground and ensure the Las Vegas Strip remains a safe and welcoming place for all to visit,” Sisolak said.

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UAE, Pakistan reject motion, UN votes down debate on China's treatment of Uyghur Muslims

Updated 22 min 15 sec ago

UAE, Pakistan reject motion, UN votes down debate on China's treatment of Uyghur Muslims

  • Defeat, 19 against, 17 for, 11 abstentions, is only second time in UN rights council's history that motion has been rejected
  • China says motion an attempt by US and West to "use the UN human rights body to interfere in China's internal affairs"

GENEVA: The UN rights council on Thursday voted down a Western-led motion to hold a debate about alleged human rights abuses by China against Uyghurs and other Muslims in Xinjiang in a victory for Beijing as it seeks to avoid further scrutiny.

The defeat - 19 against, 17 for, 11 abstentions - is only the second time in the council's 16-year history that a motion has been rejected and is seen by observers as a setback to both accountability efforts, the West's moral authority on human rights and the credibility of the United Nations itself.

The United States, Canada and Britain were among the countries that brought the motion.

"This is really disappointing," said Dolkun Isa, president of the World Uyghur Congress, whose mother died in a camp and whose two brothers are missing.

Qatar, Indonesia, the United Arab Emirates and Pakistan rejected the motion, with the latter citing the risk of alienating China.

"Xinjiang-related issues are not human rights issues at all, but issues of counter-terrorism, de-radicalisation and anti-separatism," said China's foreign ministry late on Thursday.

The motion was an attempt by the United States and some Western countries to "use the UN human rights body to interfere in China's internal affairs," said the foreign ministry in a post on its official website.

China's envoy had warned before the vote that the motion would create a precedent for examining other countries' human rights records.

"Today China is targeted. Tomorrow any other developing country will be targeted," said Chen Xu, adding that a debate would lead to "new confrontations". read more

The UN rights office on Aug. 31 released a long-delayed report that found serious human rights violations in Xinjiang that may constitute crimes against humanity, ramping up pressure on China.

Rights groups accuse Beijing of abuses against Uyghurs, a mainly Muslim ethnic minority that numbers around 10 million in the western region of Xinjiang, including the mass use of forced labour in internment camps. The United States has accused China of genocide. Beijing vigorously denies any abuses.

The motion is the first time that the rights record of China, a powerful permanent Security Council member, has been on the council's agenda. The item has stoked divisions and a diplomat said states were under "enormous pressure" from Beijing to back China.

Countries like Britain, the United States and Germany, vowed to continue to work towards accountability despite Thursday's outcome.


Thailand mourns children, others slain by ex-police officer

Updated 07 October 2022

Thailand mourns children, others slain by ex-police officer

  • Police speculated the gunman targeted the center because it was near his home

UTHAI SAWAN, Thailand: Friends hugged sobbing family members struggling with staggering loss Friday in a rural northeastern Thailand community mourning the children and other victims slain by a fired police officer in the nation’s deadliest shooting rampage.
At least 24 of the 36 people killed in the assault Thursday in the small town of Uthai Sawan were children.
On Friday morning, royal and government representatives in white, military-style coats stood in lines to lay wreaths at ceremonial tables in front of the Young Children’s Development Center’s main door. They were followed by weeping family members, who gathered their hands in prayer before laying white flowers on the wooden floor.
“I cried until I had no more tears coming out of my eyes. They are running through my heart,” said Seksan Sriraj, 28, whose pregnant wife was a teacher at the center and was due to give birth this month. “My wife and my child have gone to a peaceful place. I am alive and will have to live. If I can’t go on, my wife and my child will be worried about me, and they won’t be reborn in the next life. That’s about it.”
Many relatives were gathered in front of the child care center to start the process of claiming compensation and psychologists were also sent to the site to help them. Seven of the 10 people who were wounded were still hospitalized Friday.
Thailand’s King Maha Vajiralongkorn and Queen Suthida were expected later Friday to visit two hospitals treating the wounded, and Prime Minster Prayuth Chan-ocha was expected to visit the daycare center and the hospitals.
When asked whether he thought the child care center was secure enough, Seksan noted the attacker had been a police officer. “He came to do what he had in his mind and was determined to do it. I think everyone did the best they could.”
Police speculated the gunman targeted the center because it was near his home. They identified him as Panya Kamrap, 34, a former police sergeant fired earlier this year because of a drug charge involving methamphetamine. He had been due to appear in court Friday.
Witnesses said the attacker got out of a car and shot a man eating lunch before pausing to reload. Staff at the child care center locked the door, but the gunman shot his way through it. The children, mainly 2- and 3-year-olds, had been taking an afternoon nap, and photos taken by first responders showed their tiny bodies still lying on blankets.
Panya took his own life after killing his wife and child at home.
Nopparat Langkapin, a local official in Uthai Sawan, said the victims were “all children of our community.”
“Relatives, families and close friends are deeply saddened by this incident. And we all felt this across the community very quickly. Most of us are feeling depressed and sad because they are our children,” he said.
The attack took place in Nongbua Lamphu province, one of the country’s poorest regions.
A video taken by a first responder arriving at the scene showed rescuers rushing into the single-story building past a shattered glass front door, with drops of blood visible on the ground in the entryway. Photos showed slashes to the victims’ faces and gunshots to their heads.
In footage posted online after the attack, frantic family members wept outside the building. The floor was smeared with blood, and pictures of the alphabet and other colorful decorations adorned the walls.
Mass shootings are rare but not unheard of in Thailand, which has one of the highest civilian gun ownership rates in Asia, with 15.1 weapons per 100 population compared to only 0.3 in Singapore and 0.25 in Japan. That’s still far lower than the US rate of 120.5 per 100 people, according to a 2017 survey by Australia’s GunPolicy.org nonprofit organization.
The US and Australia expressed sympathy and solidarity. “All Australians send their love and condolences,” Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese tweeted. “This violence is both senseless and heartbreaking,” US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a statement.
Thailand’s previous worst mass shooting involved a disgruntled soldier who opened fire in and around a mall in the northeastern city of Nakhon Ratchasima in 2020, killing 29 people and holding off security forces for some 16 hours before eventually being killed by them.
Nearly 60 others were wounded in that attack. Its death toll surpassed that of the previously worst attack on civilians, a 2015 bombing at a shrine in Bangkok that killed 20 people. It was allegedly carried out by human traffickers in retaliation for a crackdown on their network.
Last month, a clerk shot co-workers at Thailand’s Army War College in Bangkok, killing two and wounding another before he was arrested.