Isnin, 9 Disember 2013

The Star Online: World Updates

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The Star Online: World Updates

North Korea's 'reign of terror' worries South's leader


SEOUL (Reuters) - North Korea is engaged in a purge amounting to a "reign of terror" that has claimed the scalp of the country's second most powerful man and risks further damaging relations with the South, President Park Geun-hye said on Tuesday.

Park took office in Seoul earlier this year as North Korea conducted its third nuclear test, enraging world public opinion, and threatened to engulf its southern neighbour and its ally, the United States, in a war. The isolated state shelled a South Korean island in 2010 and is widely believed to have sunk a South Korean naval vessel in the same year.

"North Korea is currently carrying out a reign of terror, undertaking a large-scale purge in order to strengthen Kim Jong Un's power," Park told a cabinet meeting, part of which was broadcast on television.

"From now one, South-North Korea relations may become more unstable."

In her usually carefully scripted manner, the president called for vigilance to safeguard the achievements of the wealthy south.

"In times like these, I think it is a nation's duty and politicians' job to keep people safe and free democracy strong," she told the meeting.

State media on Monday said Jang Song Thaek, the uncle of North Korean ruler Kim Jong Un, had been dismissed from his posts for "criminal acts" ranging from mismanagement, corruption and leading a "dissolute and depraved life".

Television in the tightly controlled and impoverished state showed him being frogmarched by uniformed personnel out of a meeting of the ruling Workers' Party.

Associates of Jang are believed to have been executed in the purge of a man once viewed as a regent for Kim Jong Un, aged about 30 and the third of his family dynasty to run the country.


A member of the South's parliament last week also said the young leader had embarked on a lengthy purge of possible rivals.

"Kim Jong Un is strengthening the reign of terror... Last year 17 people were public executed but this year there were about 40," Cho Won-jin told journalists after a briefing by the country's intelligence agency.

It was the NIS intelligence agency that first broke news last week that Jang had been dismissed.

Tension rose sharply on the Korean peninsula earlier this year after the United Nations imposed tough, new sanctions on Pyongyang in response to its latest nuclear test.

It eased as South and North Korea reopened the joint Kaesong factory park in September just north of the heavily militarised border, five months after the North abruptly shut it.

But despite the gesture to reopen the only remaining cooperation endeavour between North and South, Pyongyang again warned it would turn Seoul into a "sea of fire".

The North has repeatedly attacked Park, the daughter of Park Chung-hee, South Korea's long-serving dictator, who laid the foundations for the country's growth and prosperity.

Jang came in for further denunciations in the North's state media on Tuesday as Rodong Sinmun, the ruling party's official newspaper, said people had vented their anger towards him and pledged loyalty to Kim Jong Un.

"It wouldn't be gratifying enough to put them in an electric furnace and burn them," Jin Yong Il, a North Korean worker at a steel complex was quoted as saying by the newspaper, referring to Jang and his entourage.

Tearful Thai PM Yingluck asks protesters to take part in election


BANGKOK (Reuters) - Her eyes welling with tears, Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra pleaded on Tuesday for anti-government demonstrators to clear the streets and support a snap election, but defiant protest leaders called for her to step down within 24 hours.

After weeks of sometimes violent street protests, protesters rejected her call on Monday for a general election and said she should be replaced by an unelected "people's council", a proposal that has stoked concern Southeast Asia's second-biggest economy may abandon its democratic process.

Yingluck she would continue her duties as caretaker prime minister until the election, which is expected on February 2.

"Now that the government has dissolved parliament I ask that you stop protesting and that all sides work towards elections," she told reporters.

"I have backed down to the point where I don't know how to back down any further," Yingluck said, with tears in her eyes. She quickly composed herself.

An estimated 3,000 protesters camped out overnight around Government House, where Yingluck's office is located, a day after 160,000 protesters converged peacefully on the complex in one of Bangkok's largest protests in memory.

They made no attempt to get into the grounds, which appeared to be defended by unarmed police and soldiers. The crowd could swell again on Tuesday, a public holiday in Thailand for Constitution Day.

The protesters want to oust Yingluck and eradicate the influence of her brother, former premier Thaksin Shinawatra, who was toppled by the military in 2006 and has chosen to live in exile rather than serve a jail term for abuse of power.

This is the latest flare-up in almost a decade of rivalry between forces aligned with the Bangkok-based establishment and those who support Thaksin, a former telecommunications tycoon who won huge support in the countryside with pro-poor policies.


In a late-night speech to supporters massed around Government House on Monday, protest leader Suthep Thaugsuban gave Yingluck 24 hours to step down.

"Suthep has asked the prime minister and the government to step down from their duties," said Akanat Promphan, a spokesman for the protest group.

"We want the government to step aside and create a power vacuum in order to create a people's council," he said, adding protesters would camp near the prime minister's offices for three days.

Lawmakers from the main opposition Democrat Party resigned from parliament en masse on Sunday, saying they could not work with Yingluck. Its leaders have refused to be drawn on whether they would participate in the election.

In April 2006, amid mass protests against Thaksin, the pro-establishment Democrats refused to contest a snap election he had called. He was deposed by the military five months later.

Aware that the allies of Yingluck and Thaksin would almost certainly win any election, Suthep has called for a "people's council" of appointed "good people" to replace the government.

In another speech on Monday, he called Yingluck's government incompetent and corrupt for policies such as a costly rice intervention scheme and said the people would select a new prime minister. He did not say how that would be done or how he planned to take over the levers of power.

Suthep was dismissive of the early election. "The dissolving of parliament is not our aim," he told Reuters.

His campaign opens up the prospect of a minority of Thailand's 66 million people dislodging a democratically elected leader, this time without help from the military.

The politically powerful army, which has staged or attempted 18 coups in the past 80 years, has said it does not want to get involved, although it has tried to mediate.

Thaksin is widely seen as the power behind his sister's government. The protests were sparked last month by a government bid to introduce an amnesty that would have expunged his conviction and allowed him to return home a free man.

Yingluck's Puea Thai Party won the last election in 2011 by a landslide, enjoying widespread support in the north and northeast, Thailand's poorest regions. She will be its candidate for prime minister if the party wins in February.

(Additional reporting by Pracha Hariraksapitak; Writing by Alan Raybould; Editing by Paul Tait)

U.S. Korean War veteran released by North says made 'confession' under duress


LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - An elderly U.S. Korean War veteran released from detention in North Korea said on Monday a videotaped "confession" he made was given under duress and that he believed he may have been held in a misunderstanding over his interest in the war.

Merrill Newman, 85, said in a statement that he was kept under guard in a North Korean hotel during a detention that lasted over a month, and that his interrogator told him he would be sentenced to jail for 15 years if he did not cooperate.

"Anyone who knows me knows that I could not have done the things they had me 'confess' to," Newman said in the statement issued two days after he arrived at San Francisco airport on Saturday following his release.

Newman, who was a U.S. special forces soldier during the 1950-53 Korean War and worked with guerrillas fighting behind the lines against the communists in the north, was pulled off a flight on October 26 as he was about to leave the reclusive East Asian nation at the end of a tourist visit.

The California native was held for crimes North Korea said he committed during the war, when he was a lieutenant with a U.S. Army unit nicknamed the "White Tigers," serving as an adviser to a group of partisans who fought deep behind enemy lines.

Newman said that during his tourist trip he had expressed interest in visiting some of those "who fought in the war" in the Mount Kuwol area. He said he had helped train partisan fighters operating in that area during the war.

"The North Koreans seem to have misinterpreted my curiosity as something more sinister," he said. "It is now clear to me the North Koreans still feel much more anger about the war than I realized. With the benefit of hindsight, I should have been more sensitive to that."

No peace treaty was signed between the U.S.-led forces fighting for South Korea against North Korea and China, which was fighting alongside its Cold War ally.


North Korea had called Newman a war criminal, saying he masterminded espionage and subversive activities against the state "and in this course he was involved in killings of service personnel of the Korean People's Army and innocent civilians," the official KCNA news agency has said.

KCNA had said Newman, who has a heart condition, was being deported on humanitarian grounds and because he had admitted to his wrongdoing and apologized.

In an ungrammatical statement given over a week ago on North Korean state media, Newman said he knew the former partisans he had worked with during the war had escaped to South Korea, but that he wanted to find their remaining families and relatives.

Newman also said in the videotaped message that he had a "plan to meet any surviving soldiers."

In his statement to U.S. media on Monday, Newman said that the confession was not voluntary, saying he made a point of emphasizing the bad grammar in the text North Korean authorities had given him to read to show that it was coerced.

Newman, a former manufacturing and finance executive who lives in a retirement community in the upscale city of Palo Alto, also said North Korean authorities looked after his health and fed him well.

Some of Newman's fellow soldiers in the Korean War had said they would not have visited North Korea. But Pyongyang has allowed other American veterans of the war to visit, a fact Newman noted in his latest statement.

Newman's wife, Lee, had previously told CNN that Newman made the visit "to put some closure" on that aspect of his life.

Kenneth Bae, a Korean-American who worked as a Christian missionary, remains imprisoned in North Korea after he was convicted in May of crimes against the state and sentenced to 15 years of hard labour. U.S. leaders have called on North Korea to release Bae, as they did in Newman's case.

Newman also expressed hope that Bae "will be allowed to rejoin his family."

(Additional reporting by Dana Feldman,; Editing by Cynthia Johnston and Philip Barbara)


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