- North Korea wants to hold high-level talks with U.S.
- Hong Kong rally backs Snowden, denounces allegations of U.S. spying
- Police raid on Istanbul park triggers night of rioting
Posted: 15 Jun 2013 08:01 PM PDT
SEOUL (Reuters) - North Korea on Sunday offered high-level talks with the United States to ease tensions on the Korean peninsula, only days after it cancelled planned official talks with South Korea for the first time in over two years.
Planned high-level talks between North and South Korea were scrapped last week after the North abruptly called off the talks. The North blamed the South for scuttling discussions that sought to mend estranged ties between the rival Koreas.
North Korea National Defence Commission in a statement carried by KCNA news agency on Sunday said Washington can pick a date and place for talks and the two sides can discuss a range of issues, but no preconditions should be attached.
"In order to ease tensions on the Korean peninsula and to achieve regional peace and safety, we propose to hold high-level talks between the DPRK and the United States, " said the spokesman for the North's National Defence Commission in the statement. North Korea's official name is the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK).
"If the U.S. is truly interested in securing regional peace and safety and easing tensions, it should not mention of preconditions for the talks," the statement said.
Earlier this year, North Korea threatened nuclear and missile strikes against South Korea and the United States after it was hit with U.N. sanctions for its February nuclear weapons test.
In the statement, Pyongyang reiterated it was willing to discuss disarmament but the world should also be denuclearised including its southern neighbour. It added it wants the United States to sign a formal peace treaty formally ending the 1950-53 Korean War that divided the two Koreas.
Korea was divided after the Second World War and when the Korean War ended in an armistice rather than a permanent peace treaty, leaving the two countries technically at war.
North Korea agreed a denuclearisation-for-aid deal in 2005 but later backed out of that accord. It has said its nuclear arms are a "treasured sword" that it will not abandon.
North Korea's one major diplomatic ally, China, has urged Pyongyang to abandon its nuclear weapons programme and return to talks.
The North has a long record of making threats to secure concessions from the United States and South Korea.
North Korea's 30-year-old leader, Kim Jong-un, took power in December 2011 and has since carried out two long-range rocket launches and a nuclear weapons test, as well as a campaign of threats against South Korea and the United States.
Threats have waned in the past month, showing signs of easing tensions such as proposing talks with South Korea in early June. The talks had been intended to discuss issues resuming operations of joint commercial projects and families split during the 1950-53 Korean War.
Copyright © 2013 Reuters
Posted: 15 Jun 2013 07:39 PM PDT
HONG KONG (Reuters) - A few hundred rights advocates and political activists marched through Hong Kong on Saturday to demand protection for Edward Snowden, who leaked revelations of U.S. electronic surveillance and is now believed to be holed up in the former British colony.
Marchers gathered outside the U.S. consulate shouting slogans denouncing alleged spying operations aimed at China and Hong Kong, but the numbers were modest compared to rallies over other rights and political issues.
"Arrest Obama, free Snowden," protesters shouted outside the slate grey building as police looked on. Many waved banners that said: "Betray Snowden, betray freedom", "Big brother is watching you" and "Obama is checking your email".
In his first comments on Snowden's case, Hong Kong leader Leung Chun-ying said late on Saturday that the government would handle it in accordance with established laws.
"When the relevant mechanism is activated, the Hong Kong SAR Government will handle the case of Mr Snowden in accordance with the laws and established procedures of Hong Kong," he said.
"Meanwhile, the government will follow up on any incidents related to the privacy or other rights of the institutions or people in Hong Kong being violated."
Some protesters blew whistles in support of Snowden, 29, the American former CIA contractor who has acknowledged being behind leaks of the surveillance programmes by the National Security Agency.
The procession moved on to government headquarters in the city, which reverted to Chinese rule in 1997 but enjoys far more liberal laws on dissent and freedom of expression.
About a dozen groups organised two rallies, including the city's two largest political camps. Leaders of major political parties sought explanations for Snowden's allegations of spying.
Hong Kong's largest pro-Beijing political party, the DAB, demanded an apology from Washington, clarification of "illegal" espionage activities and an immediate halt to them.
"I think the Hong Kong government should protect him," the DAB's vice-chairwoman, Starry Lee, said outside the consulate.
Snowden reportedly flew to Hong Kong on May 20. He checked out of a luxury hotel on Monday and his whereabouts remain unknown. Snowden has said he intends to stay in Hong Kong to fight any potential U.S. moves to extradite him.
CHINA AVOIDS COMMENT ON CASE
China has avoided any explicit comment on its position towards Snowden. A senior source with ties to the Communist Party leadership said Beijing was reluctant to jeopardise recently improved ties with Washington.
Snowden told the South China Morning Post this week that Americans had spied extensively on targets including the Chinese University of Hong Kong that hosts an exchange which handles nearly all the city's domestic web traffic. Other alleged targets included government officials, businesses and students.
Snowden pledged not to "hide from justice" and said he would place his trust in Hong Kong's legal system. Some legal experts, however, say an extradition treaty between Hong Kong and the United States has functioned smoothly since 1998.
It is unclear whether Chinese authorities would intervene over any U.S. attempts to extradite Snowden, though lawyers say Beijing has rarely interfered with extradition cases.
His arrival comes at a sensitive time for Hong Kong leader Leung Chun-ying, whose popularity has sunk since taking office last year amid a series of scandals and corruption probes into prominent figures. Leung has offered no comment on Snowden.
Interest among residents into the case is growing and numbers could rise if extradition proceedings are launched.
Demonstrations on issues ranging from denunciations of pro-communist education policy imposed by Beijing, high property prices and a growing wealth gap have attracted large crowds.
A vigil marking the anniversary of China's June 1989 crackdown on democracy advocates drew tens of thousands this month and a record 180,000 last year.
Diplomats and opposition figures in the city have warned of growing behind-the-scenes meddling by Beijing in Hong Kong's affairs, as well as deep-rooted spying activities.
(Additional reporting by James Pomfret and Anne-Marie Roantree; Writing by James Pomfret; Editing by Ron Popeski and Michael Perry)
Copyright © 2013 Reuters
Posted: 15 Jun 2013 06:19 PM PDT
ISTANBUL (Reuters) - Thousands of people took to the streets of Istanbul overnight on Sunday, erecting barricades and starting bonfires, after riot police firing teargas and water cannon stormed a park at the centre of two weeks of anti-government unrest.
Lines of police backed by armoured vehicles sealed off Taksim Square in the centre of the city as officers raided the adjoining Gezi Park late on Saturday, where protesters had been camped in a ramshackle settlement of tents.
Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan had warned hours earlier that security forces would clear the square, the centre of more than two weeks of fierce anti-government protests that spread to cities across the country, unless the demonstrators withdrew before a ruling party rally in Istanbul on Sunday.
"We have our Istanbul rally tomorrow. I say it clearly: Taksim Square must be evacuated, otherwise this country's security forces know how to evacuate it," he told tens of thousands of flag-waving supporters at a rally in Ankara.
Protesters took to the streets in several neighbourhoods across Istanbul following the raid on Gezi Park, ripping up metal fences, paving stones and advertising hoardings to build barricades and lighting bonfires of trash in the streets.
Some chanted, "Tayyip, resign."
Local television footage showed groups of demonstrators blocking a main highway to Ataturk airport on the western edge of the city, while to the east, several hundred walked towards a main bridge crossing the Bosphorus waterway towards Taksim.
Thousands more rallied in the working-class Gazi neighbourhood, which saw heavy clashes with police in the 1990s, while protesters also gathered in Ankara around the central Kugulu Park, including opposition MPs who sat in the streets in an effort to prevent the police from firing teargas.
A main public-sector union confederation, KESK, which has some 240,000 members, said it would call a national strike for Monday, while a second union grouping said it was holding an emergency meeting to decide whether to join the action.
"One million people to Taksim" - a call for more anti-government demonstrations later on Sunday - was a top-trending hashtag on Twitter.
"The police brutality aims at clearing the streets of Istanbul to make way for Erdogan's meeting tomorrow," said Oguz Kaan Salici, Istanbul president of the main opposition People's Republican Party.
"Yet it will backfire. People feel betrayed."
CLOUDS OF TEARGAS
A similar police crackdown on peaceful campaigners in Gezi Park two weeks ago provoked an unprecedented wave of protest against Erdogan, drawing in secularists, nationalists, professionals, trade unionists and students who took to the streets in protest at what they see as his autocratic style.
The unrest, in which police fired teargas and water cannon at stone-throwing protesters night after night in cities including Istanbul and Ankara, left four people dead and about 5,000 injured, according to the Turkish Medical Association.
Panicked protesters fled into an upscale hotel at the back of Gezi Park during Saturday night's raid, several of them vomiting, as clouds of teargas and blasts from percussion bombs - designed to create confusion rather than injure - engulfed the park.
"We tried to flee and the police pursued us. It was like war," Claudia Roth, co-chair of Germany's Greens party, who had gone to Gezi Park to show her support, told Reuters.
The Gezi Park protesters, who oppose government plans to build a replica Ottoman-era barracks there, had defied repeated calls to leave but had started to reduce their presence in the park after meetings with Erdogan and the local authorities.
"This is unbelievable. They had already taken out political banners and were reducing to a symbolic presence in the park," Koray Caliskan, a political scientist at Bosphorus University, told Reuters from the edge of Gezi Park.
Erdogan told protesters on Thursday that he would put the Gezi Park plans on hold until a court rules on them. It was a softer stance after two weeks in which he called protesters "riff-raff" and said the plans would go ahead regardless.
But at the first of two rallies this weekend by his ruling AK Party, he reverted to a defiant tone, telling supporters on the outskirts of Ankara that he would crush his opponents in elections next year.
The police intervention so soon after Erdogan spoke took many by surprise on a busy Saturday night around Taksim, one of Istanbul's main social hubs, not least after President Abdullah Gul, who has struck a more conciliatory tone than Erdogan, said earlier on Saturday that talks were progressing well.
Erdogan has long been Turkey's most popular politician, his AK Party winning three successive election victories, each time with a larger share of the vote, but his critics complain of increasing authoritarianism.
He has said the AK Party rallies in Ankara and Istanbul are meant to kick off campaigning for local elections next year and are not related to the protests, but they are widely seen as a show of strength in the face of the demonstrations.
(Additional reporting by Daren Butler, Can Sezer, Asli Kandemir, Evrim Ergin in Istanbul, Jonathon Burch and Humeyra Pamuk in Ankara; Writing by Nick Tattersall; Editing by Peter Cooney)
Copyright © 2013 Reuters
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