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The Star Online: World Updates

North Korea seen testing engine for intercontinental ballistic missile

Posted: 01 May 2014 09:25 PM PDT

SEOUL (Reuters) - North Korea has recently conducted engine tests for an intercontinental ballistic missile that could potentially deliver a nuclear warhead to the United States, a U.S. think tank said on Friday.

North Korea conducted at least one engine test for the KN-08 missile in late March or early April, the think tank 38 North said, marking the latest in a series of tests for a missile believed to have a range of more than 10,000 km (6,000 miles).

Following the engine tests, the next stage for North Korea would be a test launch of the missile, according to 38 North, which is affiliated with Johns Hopkins University's U.S.-Korea Institute.

"As this effort progresses, the next technically logical step in the missile's development would be a flight test of the entire system," 38 North said in its report.

Commercial satellite imagery indicates movement and removal of missile stages and fuel tanks as well as changes in the flame trench that point to North Korea having conducted one or more tests in the two-week period from March 22, the report said.

South Korea's defence ministry declined to confirm the specifics of the report citing intelligence policy but said a long-range missile launch by the North could not be ruled out.

"It's not easy to conduct a long-range rocket launch right after a engine test but they may have had other things prepared," ministry spokesman Kim Min-seok said.

North Korea is believed to be developing on a nuclear weapon and the technology to miniaturise a warhead to mount it on a long-range missile.

In December 2012 it launched a long-range rocket that successfully put an object into space orbit and in February last year conducted a third nuclear test.

The report on the engine testing comes a week after the think tank reported heightened activities at the North's nuclear test site at Punggye-ri, indicating it was ready to conduct a fourth nuclear test. [ID:nL3N0NF0MD]

A South Korean government official said preparations for a nuclear test at Punggye-ri appeared to be complete, including the sealing of tunnels dug into mountain range, and all that remained was for the North's leader Kim Jong Un to order it.

Since 2006, the United Nations has imposed sanctions on North Korea for its nuclear and missile tests, but the North has pushed ahead with further tests, even disregarding warnings from its sole major ally, China.

On Friday, the North's official media carried a report that showed Kim Jong Un had replaced his top military aide, naming confidant Hwang Pyong So as the new army political chief.

Hwang replaced Choe Ryong Hae, who was rumored to be in bad health. Choe is the son of a revolutionary fighter who worked with state founder Kim Il Sung.

Hwang was previously deputy director of the ruling Workers' Party's powerful Organizational Guidance Department.

The post of the director of the Korean People's Army's General Political Department is seen as the highest position in the North's 1.2-million strong army.

Analysts doubted whether the appointment would significantly impact Kim's grip on power. But, some said it may reflect the discomfort of a young leader, with no military experience, at having Choe in such a prominent post.

(Corrects to give full name of army's new political chief in 13th paragraph)

(Reporting by Jack Kim; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore)

Pro-Russian rebels in Slaviansk say Ukraine tries to retake town

Posted: 01 May 2014 09:25 PM PDT

SLAVIANSK Ukraine (Reuters) - Pro-Russian separatists in Slaviansk in eastern Ukraine said on Friday Ukrainian forces had launched a "large-scale operation" to retake the town and one military helicopter had been shot down.

A Reuters photographer said he saw a military helicopter open fire on the outskirts of the town and a reporter heard gunfire.

In Kiev, an aide to Ukrainian Interior Minister Arsen Avakov said he could not comment.

"Until it's over, no one will say anything," he said.

Armed groups seeking union with Russia have seized a number of government buildings in towns in eastern Ukraine.

(Reporting by Maria Tsvetkova; Writing by Elizabeth Piper; Editing by Paul Tait)

After bombing in west, China angered by U.S. criticism in terror report

Posted: 01 May 2014 08:25 PM PDT

URUMQI China (Reuters) - China's foreign ministry has reacted angrily to U.S. criticism of the level of cooperation from Beijing on fighting terrorism, after an apparent suicide bombing in the country's far west pointed to a possible escalation of unrest there.

The Chinese government has blamed religious extremists for carrying out a bomb and knife attack at a train station in Urumqi, regional capital of Xinjiang, on Wednesday evening that killed one bystander and wounded 79.

Security was heavy on Friday in Urumqi, scene of deadly riots five years ago between Muslim Uighurs and ethnic Han Chinese in which almost 200 were killed.

The train station was bustling, with hundreds of migrant workers arriving from around China for seasonal work. Many sat on their bags in the station plaza waiting for trains to other parts of the region.

Units of armed police carrying assault rifles and sharpened black metal poles with hand grips marched in file around the station grounds. Black police vans and armoured troop transports were parked in front of the station's entrance.

Resource-rich and strategically located Xinjiang, on the borders of central Asia, has for years been beset by violence blamed by the Chinese government on Islamist militants and separatists, but suicide attacks have been extremely rare.

"China falls victim of terrorism, and always firmly opposes terrorism in any form and terrorist acts conducted or backed by any person under any name," the foreign ministry said in a statement late on Thursday.

Beijing is unhappy at the U.S. State Department's 2013 country reports on terrorism, published last month, which said China's cooperation on fighting terrorism "remained marginal" and that the Chinese provided scarce evidence to prove terrorist involvement in incidents in Xinjiang.

"On the issue of fighting terrorism, to make irresponsible remarks towards other countries and adopting double standards will not help international cooperation on counter-terrorism," The foreign ministry said.

Xinjiang's regional government said on its official news website on Thursday that the Urumqi attack had been carried out by two men who had "long been influenced by extremist religious thought and participated in extremist religious activities".

Both were killed in the blast, it said. It identified one of them as Sedirdin Sawut, a 39-year-old man from Xayar county in Xinjiang's Aksu region. The man is a member of the Muslim Uighur minority, judging by his name.

There have been suicide bombings before in China, mostly by people with personal grievances, but it has generally not been a tactic employed by Uighurs.

In October, a car ploughed into tourists on the edge of Beijing's Tiananmen Square, killing the car's three occupants and two bystanders, in what the government believed was a suicide attack by people from Xinjiang.


Exiles and many rights groups say the real cause of the unrest in Xinjiang is China's heavy-handed policies, including curbs on Islam and the culture and language of the Uighur people.

Urumqi is heavily populated by Han Chinese, who have flooded there seeking business opportunities. Uighurs have complained that they have been frozen out of the job market. Many were reluctant to talk to reporters.

"I just don't believe it was a Uighur who did this," one 35-year-old Uighur man selling dried fruit about 100 metres from the blast site told Reuters on Thursday. "These public spaces aren't safe for anyone, Uighur or Han."

Accounts of Wednesday's attack have come mostly from China's heavily censored state media. Independent reporting in Xinjiang is extremely difficult due to the tight security and wariness many Uighurs have at talking to foreign reporters.

The Xinhua news agency cited police as saying "knife-wielding mobs" slashed at people at an exit of the station and set off explosives.

The bombing, the first in Urumqi in 17 years, was possibly timed to coincide with a visit to the region with a large Muslim minority by President Xi Jinping. State media did not say whether Xi was anywhere near Urumqi at the time.

The government called the attackers "terrorists", a term it uses to describe Islamist militants and separatists in Xinjiang who have waged a sometimes violent campaign for an independent East Turkestan state.

In Washington, the State Department also said all signs pointed to the attack being the work of terrorists.

"Based on the information we have seen, including what has been reported by the Chinese media, this appears to be an act of terrorism that targets random members of the public," State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf told a daily briefing.

Thursday's foreign ministry statement said China has always sought to combat terrorism in accordance with law while paying attention to "eliminating both the symptoms and root causes of terrorism", adding that China opposed "linking terrorism to specific ethnic groups or religions".

The station bombing was the largest militant attack in Urumqi since the government blamed Uighurs for stabbing hundreds of Han Chinese with needles in 2009. No one was killed in that incident.

Unrest in Xinjiang has caused the deaths of more than 100 people in the past year, prompting a tougher stance against the Turkic-language speaking Uighurs, many of whom resent government controls on their culture and religion.

In March, 29 people were stabbed to death in the southwestern city of Kunming, far from Xinjiang and on the borders of Southeast Asia. The government blamed that attack on Xinjiang extremists.

(Additional reporting by Ben Blanchard in Beijing; Editing by Alex Richardson)


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