- North Korea may be preparing new nuclear test - report
- Opposition holds big rally in Venezuelan capital
- Norway workers agree on last-minute wage rise to avert strike
Posted: 07 Apr 2013 09:24 PM PDT
BEIJING/SEOUL (Reuters) - North Korea, engaged for weeks in threats of war with South Korea and the United States, appears to be preparing for a fourth nuclear test, with movement at its atomic test site mirroring earlier blasts, a newspaper reported on Monday.
The report, quoting a senior South Korean government official, followed unusually harsh rebukes of North Korea by China, Pyongyang's sole diplomatic and financial ally.
Speculation has been building that North Korea might undertake some new provocative action this week - possibly a missile test. It was February's nuclear test that prompted tougher U.N. sanctions that have angered Pyongyang.
North Korean authorities have told embassies in Pyongyang they could not guarantee their safety from Wednesday - after saying conflict was inevitable amid joint U.S.-South Korean military exercises due to last until the end of the month. No diplomats appear to have left the North Korean capital.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry visits Seoul later this week and the North holds celebrations and possibly military demonstrations next Monday to mark the birth date of its founder, Kim Il-Sung - grandfather of the current leader, 30-year-old Kim Jong-un.
South Korea's JoongAng Ilbo daily, quoting a senior South Korean government official, said activity at North Korea's atomic test site was similar to that observed before the February 12 blast.
"There are recent active movements of manpower and vehicles at the southern tunnel at Punggye-ri," the official told the newspaper.
South Korea's Defence Ministry was unruffled by the report, saying it has been long prepared for a new test.
"That has not changed at this point. Vehicles and people can come and go because there are several facilities around the nuclear test site," spokesman Kim Min-seok told a briefing.
Pyongyang moved what appeared to be a mid-range Musudan missile to its east coast, according to media reports last week.
The turmoil has hit South Korean financial markets, long used to upsets over the North. Shares in Seoul dipped to a four-month low on Monday as the rhetoric prompted selling by foreigners after substantial losses on Friday.
Moody's credit rating agency said in a report on Monday that the rise in North Korean rhetoric and the re-starting of a nuclear plant to make fissile material had made the current situation "more dangerous" and negative for South Korean assets.
A prominent symbol of inter-Korean cooperation, the Kaesong industrial park inside the North Korean border, is also in doubt after Pyongyang prevented southerners from entering last week. Several hundred South Koreans inside have since returned home.
A spokesman for the South Korean Unification Ministry said 13 companies out of around 120 firms had stopped operations there because of a lack of raw materials.
North Korea would seek to get the most mileage from whatever action it undertook, said Yang Moo-Jin of the University of North Korean studies in Seoul.
"North Korea does things with the maximum impact in mind. It has not set a no-fly zone yet, which it does every time they do a ballistic missile test," he said.
Pyongyang has shown no sign of preparing its 1.2 million-strong army for war, indicating the threats are partly intended for domestic purposes to bolster Kim, the third in his family dynasty to rule North Korea.
North Korea told China it was prepared to stage one or even two more nuclear tests this year in an effort to force the United States into diplomatic talks with Pyongyang, a source with direct knowledge of the message told Reuters after the February 12 test.
The North has also been reacted furiously to annual South Korean-U.S. military exercises off the Korean peninsula, which have involved the dispatch of stealth bombers from their U.S. bases.
But a long scheduled U.S. missile launch was postponed at the weekend to try to ease tensions. The U.S. commander of American forces in South Korea also cancelled a trip to Washington due to the situation on the peninsula.
"NORTH KOREA IS NOT LISTENING TO CHINA"
The weekend message from China was one of exasperation after years of trying to coax North Korea out of isolation and to embrace economic reform.
No country "should be allowed to throw a region and even the whole world into chaos for selfish gain", President Xi Jinping told a forum on China's southern island of Hainan. He did not name North Korea but he appeared clearly to be referring to Pyongyang.
Foreign Minister Wang Yi said China opposed "provocative words and actions from any party in the region and do not allow trouble-making on China's doorstep".
U.S. lawmakers said China was not doing enough.
Republican Senator John McCain, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, criticized China's "failure to rein in what could be a catastrophic situation". China's actions, he told CBS television, "has been very disappointing. More than once, wars have started by accident and this is a very serious situation."
Analysts said that whatever influence China once had as North Korea's principal backer had waned.
"China has some say over its economic relations with the North but doesn't have the power to say 'don't do it' when it comes to nuclear weapons and political and military issues," said Kim Yeon-chul, professor of unification studies at South Korea's Inje University.
"North Korea is not listening to China."
Beijing negotiated the new U.N. sanctions with Washington and has said it wanted them implemented. The measures tighten financial curbs on North Korea, order checks of suspicious cargo and strengthen a ban on luxury goods entering the country.
North Korean experts say the young Kim has also failed to pay fealty to China as his father, Kim Jong-il, and his grandfather did. He has not visited China since taking over when his father died at the end of 2011.
(Additional reporting by Jack Kim in Seoul, David Morgan, Aruna Viswanatha and Mark Felsenthal in Washington. Writing by Ron Popeski. Editing by Dean Yates)
Copyright © 2013 Reuters
Posted: 07 Apr 2013 07:44 PM PDT
CARACAS (Reuters) - Hundreds of thousands of Venezuelan opposition supporters rallied in a staunchly pro-government part of the capital on Sunday, answering a call by their candidate Henrique Capriles and showing strength a week before the presidential election.
"Today the streets of Caracas are full of happiness and hope, confirming what will happen next Sunday," Capriles, the 40-year-old governor of Miranda state, told the crowd.
He faces acting President Nicolas Maduro, who has vowed to continue the hardline socialism of his late boss, Hugo Chavez, if he wins the April 14 election. Maduro held a huge rally on Sunday in rural Apure state, on the Colombian border.
More often seen filled with the red flags and T-shirts of Chavez's loyal supporters, the capital's historic Bolivar Avenue was packed with opposition supporters decked out in the blue, yellow and red of Capriles' campaign.
"We're winning this process," Capriles said, sweating under the hot sun in a burgundy-coloured shirt, rosary beads around his neck and a baseball cap in the colours of Venezuela's flag.
He said that the day following his election victory would be one of peace and reconciliation among all Venezuelans, and he addressed supporters of Maduro's government directly.
"Those who put on a red shirt today, I just ask you: open your eyes! I'll work hard, I'll shed skin, to win your trust."
Despite the opposition leader's optimism, opinion polls give Maduro a lead of more than 10 percentage points.
Opposition supporters marched from different parts of the city to converge on the avenue, where they waved flags, cheered and sang.
Around the edges of the rally, groups of red-clad "Chavista" pro-government supporters chanted in favour of Maduro.
Both candidates are touring the South American country during a lightning, 10-day campaign ahead of next Sunday's vote, which was triggered by Chavez's death from cancer on March 5.
It has been a bitter run-up to the election, with deeply personal attacks and accusations of dirty tricks by both sides.
'VALUE OF LOYALTY'
The race took a somewhat surreal turn on Saturday when Maduro said a centuries-old curse would fall on the heads of those who do not vote for him.
Maduro, 50, was a bus driver and union leader who rose to become Chavez's foreign minister, then vice president.
At his rallies, he frequently refers to Chavez in adoring terms and plays a video from December where the former president endorsed Maduro as his successor.
"He taught us the supreme value of loyalty. With loyalty, everything is possible. Betrayal only brings defeats and curses," Maduro told cheering supporters on Sunday.
Maduro again accused the opposition of hatching a plot to assassinate him.
He has also accused the U.S. government of planning to kill Capriles and blame it on his government in order to spark unrest before the election. Washington denied it.
Capriles has ridiculed Maduro's claims and likened them to Chavez's frequent denunciations of "imperialist" assassination plots during his 14-year rule.
The opposition says the assassination claims are designed to distract voters from daily problems such as violent crime, high prices and creaking public services.
Capriles, who is predicting a late pro-opposition surge as sympathy wears off after Chavez's death, is vowing to install a Brazilian-style administration of free-market economics with strong social welfare policies.
Capriles mocks Maduro as a bad copy of Chavez, and says his decisions as acting president caused a currency devaluation and price spikes that have been disastrous for Venezuelans.
Gisela Quijada, a 68-year-old nurse attending the opposition rally in Caracas, said the country was broken.
"I like Capriles ... the other one is immature. He just wants to be a copy of Chavez," she said.
"Chavez was a leader for them. I can't deny it. But he (Maduro) has nothing in his head. If Capriles doesn't win, we'll keep on fighting for him. But we're sure he's going to win!"
The election will decide the future of "Chavismo" socialism and control of the world's biggest oil reserves and economic aid to left-leaning nations across Latin America and the Caribbean.
(Writing by Daniel Wallis; Editing by Philip Barbara and Stacey Joyce)
Copyright © 2013 Reuters
Posted: 07 Apr 2013 07:31 PM PDT
OSLO (Reuters) - Norway's unions accepted a last-minute wage deal on Monday and called off a nationwide strike, sparing the country's vital offshore oil and gas industry from disruption, both sides involved in the negotiations said.
Unions accepted a 3.4 percent pay rise, below the central bank's projection for a 4 percent increase, averting a strike that would have cut off supplies to key offshore oil and gas platforms, disrupted traffic at Oslo's international airport and shut key industries.
"This is a responsible and fair settlement, which takes into account jobs and businesses, and ensures that the purchasing power of the lowest paid gets an extra boost," Roar Flaathen, the head of the LO union said after talks ran more than three hours past the midnight deadline.
Strikes have become common in Norway over the past year as workers are demanding a greater share of the country's rare economic success. Offshore workers last summer shut down large parts of the oil sector in demand for higher wages, forcing the government to intervene.
NHO, the umbrella organisation representing employers, said the moderation in wage growth after last year's 4 percent rise was a welcome and necessary change of pace for the country.
Norway is the world's seventh largest oil exporter and second biggest piped gas supplier, and last year's strike pushed global oil prices up by around $2 (1.30 pounds) per barrel.
Norway's $500-billion economy grew by 3.5 percent last year, even as the euro zone struggled with another recession.
But wages are already more than 60 percent of the European average and stagnating competitiveness is a growing headache, even for the oil sector.
The central bank had expected wages to rise by 4 percent or more in each of the next four years, despite stagnating productivity, as workers take advantage of a general shortage of labour and Norway's relative success.
Monday's strike would have initially affected 17,000 people and would have shut two key bases from which many of Statoil's biggest offshore platforms are supplied with everything from food to fuel and drilling fluid.
(Writing by Balazs Koranyi; Editing by Stephen Coates)
Copyright © 2013 Reuters
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