- South Korea, U.S. remain on missile watch as North lauds Kims
- U.N. talks with Syria on chemical arms probe at impasse
- Venezuela's opposition denies it would scrap Chavez welfare aid
Posted: 10 Apr 2013 08:27 PM PDT
SEOUL (Reuters) - South Korea and the United States remained on high alert for any North Korean missile launch on Thursday as the hermit kingdom turned its attention to celebrating its ruling Kim dynasty and appeared to dial down rhetoric of impending war.
Despite North Korea's threats it will attack U.S. bases and the South in response to any hostile acts against it, Pyongyang started to welcome a stream of visitors for Monday's birthday celebrations of its founding father Kim Il-sung.
North Korea has stationed as many as five medium-range missiles on its east coast, according to defence assessments made by Washington and Seoul, possibly in readiness for a test launch that would demonstrate its ability to hit U.S. bases on Guam.
Officials in Seoul said there were no signs that additional steps had been taken on Thursday that would indicate the North had moved closer to a launch.
Pyongyang issued a statement that appeared to be tinged with regret over the closure of the joint Kaesong industrial zone that was shuttered when it ordered its workers out this week, terming the North-South Korean venture "the pinnacle of General Kim Jong-il's limitless love for his people and brothers".
The statement on the country's KCNA news agency blamed South Korean President Park Geun-hye for bringing the money-spinning venture to "the brink of shutting down".
Kim Jong-il, Kim Il-sung's son, ruled North Korea until his death in December 2011. He was succeeded by Kim Jong-un, the third of his line to preside over one of the world's poorest and most heavily militarised countries.
Since taking office, the 30-year old has staged two long- range rocket launches and a nuclear weapons test. The nuclear test in February triggered United Nations sanctions that Pyongyang has termed a hostile act and a precursor to invasion.
For over a month, Pyongyang has issued an almost daily series of threats to the United States and South Korea, most recently warning foreigners to leave the South due to an impending "thermonuclear" war.
Apart from the swipe at South Korea's new president, verbal threats appeared to fall off as KCNA listed arrivals for the upcoming birthday celebrations, naming an eclectic mix ranging from Chinese businessmen to Cold War-era enthusiasts of its socialist monarchy and official ideology of "Juche", or self-reliance.
Ramon Jimenez Lopez, listed as the chairman of the Latin American Institute of the Juche Idea, and Jie Wenjiang, who it said was in charge of Hantong International freight company in Dandong, China, were among the arrivals, KCNA said.
Reinforcing the rule of the Kim dynasty and the legitimacy of the latest Kim to hold power in Pyongyang is a key tenet of North Korea's ideology.
Party newspaper Rodong Sinmun said Kim Jong-un had "lifted the North Korean people out of the sea of bloody tears that has been their world in the past year" after the death of his father.
It was the first anniversary on Thursday of Kim's official ascent to power, although he became de-facto leader immediately after his father's death.
Despite the heady rhetoric from North Korea and its closure of the Kaesong economic zone that generated $2 billion a year in trade, Pyongyang does not appear to have placed its 1.2 million strong armed forces on high alert.
Most observers say Pyongyang has no intention of igniting a conflict that could bring its own destruction but warn of the risks of miscalculation on the highly-militarised Korean peninsula.
The North's rhetoric has pushed the United States, the guarantor of South Korea's security, to move more military assets into the region in response to the rising threat levels.
In Washington, U.S. Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel warned on Wednesday that the North was "skating very close to a dangerous line" with its threats and provocations, and warned the United States was prepared to respond to any moves by Pyongyang.
"We have every capacity to deal with any action that North Korea would take, to protect this country and the interests of this country and our allies," Hagel told reporters at the Pentagon.
China, the North's only major diplomatic ally, has watched the situation evolving on its doorstep with concern.
"China respects North Korea, but it also holds the responsibility of preserving peace in Northeast Asia," the Global Times, a tabloid published by the ruling Communist Party's People's Daily, said in an editorial.
"Pyongyang should drop its illusions that it can make the world stay silent over its desire for nuclear arms through its hard-line stance and deceptions. We believe the North still has a chance and we regret that it has become mired in this crisis. We hope the crisis is only temporary."
Financial markets which have fluctuated with the rise in tensions appeared to have stabilised and the head of South Korea's central bank on Thursday announced that there was no imminent threat to Asia's fourth-largest economy.
"We will take appropriate action if the economy is affected by North Korea risks," Bank of Korea Governor Kim Choong-soo said after it left interest rates unchanged on Thursday.
(Additional reporting by Jack Kim and Daum Kim in SEOUL; and John Ruwitch in SHANGHAI; Editing by Raju Gopalakrishnan)
Copyright © 2013 Reuters
Posted: 10 Apr 2013 07:36 PM PDT
UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - Discussions between the United Nations and Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's government on a possible investigation into the alleged use of chemical weapons in Syria have reached an impasse, U.N. diplomats said on Wednesday.
Syria and the United Nations have been exchanging letters for weeks but the two sides are far from agreement on how the investigation should be run, diplomats said on condition of anonymity.
Syria has asked the United Nations only to investigate what it says was a rebel chemical attack near Aleppo last month. The opposition has blamed President Bashar al-Assad's forces for that strike and also wants the U.N. team to look into other alleged chemical attacks by the government.
There have been three alleged chemical weapons attacks - the one near Aleppo and another near Damascus, both in March, and one in Homs in December. The rebels and Assad's government blame each other for all of them.
So far, the Syrians are refusing to let inspectors go anywhere but Aleppo, while the United Nations is insisting that the team goes to both Aleppo and Homs. France and Britain wrote to U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon last month saying the mission should look into all three cases.
The Syrian Foreign Ministry restated that position in a news release on Monday, saying the U.N. request to go anywhere in Syria where chemical weapons may have been used was not in keeping with the Syrian government's original request.
In an April 6 letter from Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moualem to Ban, obtained by Reuters, Assad's government said the inspectors should go first to Aleppo and if they are seen to be impartial, the possibility of visiting Homs could be discussed.
"After the mission completes its work, and ascertaining its honesty and neutrality and the credibility of its work away from politicization, it may be possible to look into the Homs claims," the letter said.
Moualem also complained about the leak of previous letters exchanged between Syria and the United Nations to Reuters, saying it "left the impression of a lack of seriousness on the part of the (U.N.) secretariat on cooperation in good faith."
The United Nations said it was studying a recent Syrian letter, although it was not immediately clear if that letter was Moualem's or a more recent one.
INSPECTORS READY TO GO TO SYRIA
Moualem offered Syrian planes that would have the U.N. logo painted on them "to ensure the safety of the (inspection) team members in view of the prevailing security situation."
Western delegations said the Syrian response of April 6 was unacceptable and that the chemical weapons team must have assurances now that it can visit both Aleppo and Homs.
After meeting in The Hague with the head of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, or OPCW, which is providing scientists and equipment for the inspection team, Ban said an advance team was in Cyprus, ready to go to Syria within 24 hours.
Britain, France and the Americans have given Ban information about the possible use of chemical weapons in Aleppo and Homs, U.N. diplomats said.
"He (Ban Ki-moon) recognized that there is sufficient evidence to investigate both in Homs and in Aleppo," the senior diplomat said.
"They should not go in to investigate the one incident if they are told by the Syrians that they can't investigate the second incident," the diplomat said. "So we would hope that the U.N. would not do that."
The United Nations has two options, diplomats said, if Syria refuses to promise the mission can visit Homs, starting with Ban reporting back to U.N. member states that the Syrians are not cooperating.
"Or you can continue the investigation but outside Syria in terms of investigating witnesses in the camps," the senior diplomat said. "There may be some physical evidence of people who have been poisoned (who are now) outside Syria."
An earlier exchange of letters between Syria's U.N. ambassador, Bashar Ja'afari, and U.N. disarmament chief Angela Kane highlighted other conditions Assad's government wants on the inspections, U.N. diplomats said on condition of anonymity.
Ja'afari insisted on appointing an observer to accompany the inspection team and wanted duplicates of any samples taken to test for chemical weapons traces, the diplomats told Reuters.
There will be at least 15 members of the inspection team, mainly from Nordic countries, Latin America or Asia. None of them is from a permanent member of the U.N. Security Council.
According to Western intelligence agencies, Syria is believed to have one of the largest remaining stockpiles of undeclared chemical weapons in the world.
If it goes ahead, the investigation will try to determine only if chemical weapons were used, not who used them. If it is confirmed that the weapons were used, it would be the first time in the 2-year-old Syrian conflict.
The United Nations estimates the Syrian conflict has resulted in more than 70,000 deaths.
(Additional reporting by Sami Aboudi in Dubai; Editing by Bill Trott and Peter Cooney)
Copyright © 2013 Reuters
Posted: 10 Apr 2013 06:14 PM PDT
CARACAS (Reuters) - Venezuelan opposition candidate Henrique Capriles denied on Wednesday accusations from acting President Nicolas Maduro that he would scrap popular welfare policies if he wins Sunday's election.
Social "missions" in poor areas, from subsidized groceries to Cuban-staffed medical clinics, were a mainstay of the late Hugo Chavez's 14-year socialist rule and kept his popularity high.
His chosen successor, Maduro, 50, says he is the guarantor of their continuation and accuses Capriles of planning to disband the missions and also privatize state oil company PDVSA, whose export revenues fund the projects.
That, said Capriles at a dawn campaign event, was nonsense and scaremongering. The 40-year-old state governor likes to show off his social record in Miranda state and describes himself as a "progressive," but he is depicted by Maduro as a right-wing puppet of Venezuela's wealthy elite and U.S. interests.
Rather than end the missions, Capriles said he would improve, expand and de-politicize them.
"Simply being Venezuelan will give people the right to free education, quality healthcare, social security and housing," he said. "In our plans there will be no blackmailing ... People will not have to be members of a political party to get aid."
Capriles, who has shown plenty of Chavez-style populist traits himself, listed his social policy plans from a 40 percent rise in the minimum wage to subsidized medicines.
"The government elite get annoyed because they want total control over the missions as if they belonged to them. They don't understand they belong to Venezuelans, not those who put the red shirt on," he added, referring to the colour of the ruling Socialist Party.
"Don't be deceived, the missions are not going to be ended. The government says that to cheat people and have control."
Accusations and insults have been flying between both camps in the frantic run-up to Sunday's vote for leadership of the South American OPEC nation of 29 million people.
Most polls have shown Maduro comfortably ahead, but a couple of the latest weekly surveys put the gap at below 10 points and Capriles' camp believes the opposition is on a late surge as emotion over Chavez's March 5 death from cancer wanes.
Maduro, a former bus driver who rose to be Chavez's vice-president, has been playing up his working-class roots in contrast to Capriles' wealthy family background. His former boss successfully played Venezuela's class politics for years to guarantee passionate support among the poor.
"The little bourgeois doesn't know what it's like to get up at four in the morning, have a coffee and half a piece of bread, then go to work early to keep a family," Maduro told a rally late on Tuesday.
"The only thing he knows is how to count the money gained from exploiting consumers."
Maduro also received a celebrity boost from former Argentine football star Diego Maradona, an avowed supporter of Latin American leftists, including Cuba's Fidel Castro and Venezuela's Chavez.
Maradona was to appear at Maduro's closing campaign rally in Caracas on Thursday, the acting president said.
Venezuela's election will not only determine the future of "Chavismo" socialism in Venezuela but also who controls the world's largest oil reserves and whether aid to a clutch of left-leaning nations around the region will continue.
Maduro is campaigning on Chavez's legacy, while Capriles wants to implement a Brazilian-style political model.
The winner faces a complicated set of problems, including strained state coffers after last year's heavy election spending, the highest inflation in the Americas, crime rates among the world's highest, and stuttering services.
(Editing by Eric Beech and Paul Simao)
Copyright © 2013 Reuters
|You are subscribed to email updates from The Star Online: World Updates |
To stop receiving these emails, you may unsubscribe now.
|Email delivery powered by Google|
|Google Inc., 20 West Kinzie, Chicago IL USA 60610|