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Bangladesh Detains 100 Suspects in Anti-Drug Crackdown

Sat, 05/26/2018 - 22:39
Security officials in Bangladesh said they raided an area in the capital on Saturday and detained at least 100 suspects as part of a nationwide anti-drug crackdown, amid accusations that extrajudicial killings have taken place during the drive. Over 60 suspected drug peddlers have been killed and over 3,000 suspects detained across Bangladesh in the crackdown, according to tallies by officials and local media. The campaign was launched earlier this month on orders by Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina. Officials and local media have said the deaths occurred in shootouts between security officials and suspects or during raids, but rights groups have called the killings extrajudicial. The country's main opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party has said many of its leaders and activists have been the target of the security agencies in the name of curbing the illegal drug trade. Some families have told local media that plainclothes men picked up some suspects and that they did not return alive. Authorities have denied the allegations, saying they're following a policy of zero tolerance in the fight against drugs. The government has said many of the suspects have criminal charges against them. Mufti Mahmud Khan, a spokesman for the Rapid Action Battalion, said security officials cordoned off part of Dhaka's Mohammedpur area on Saturday and detained at least 100 suspects. The area, which is locally called Geneva Camp, is a crammed slum and is known as one of the top spots for the selling of illegal drugs in Dhaka. Bangladesh's leading English-language Daily Star newspaper reported Saturday that a total of 63 people had been killed since the anti-drug drive began on May 4. Other leading newspapers reported that some 3,000 people had been detained. The crackdown is expected to continue for a few more weeks. Domestic and global human rights groups have decried the campaign for the alleged extrajudicial killings. Obaidul Quader, a close aide to Hasina and the ruling party's general secretary, said Saturday that the suspects have died in "shootouts," and that the killings should not be termed as extrajudicial. New York-based Human Rights Watch criticized the authorities for the deaths. "The government has a duty to ensure law and order, but must order its forces to do so in a rights respecting manner," Meenakshi Ganguly, South Asia director for the group, said in an email Saturday. "The authorities should order an impartial and time-bound inquiry into these killings during the crackdown on drug dealers and prosecute any police or (Rapid Action Battalion) member if they violated domestic and international laws," she said. The anti-drug campaign began amid a concern in Bangladesh about the spread of "yaba" pills, especially among youths. Bangladesh does not produce the drug, which is made from caffeine and methamphetamine, and has blamed Myanmar for its production and the smuggling of it into the country through a porous border.

Australian Archbishop Guilty of Concealing Child Abuse

Sat, 05/26/2018 - 20:18
There are calls for the resignation of a Roman Catholic archbishop who was found guilty by an Australian court of covering up child sexual abuse.  Archbishop of Adelaide Philip Wilson is the most senior Catholic figure to be convicted of this type of offence anywhere in the world.  Wilson was accused of covering up abuse by a pedophile priest in the Hunter Valley of New South Wales in the 1970s. The Archbishop, who held a junior position in the church at the time, faces up to two years in prison.  He will be sentenced in June. Wilson’s lawyers said he had no knowledge of offences committed against altar boys by a fellow member of the clergy, who was later convicted of sexual abuse and died in prison in 2006.  But a magistrate in the port city of Newcastle, north of Sydney, said the evidence against Archbishop Wilson was “truthful and reliable.” Witnesses told the court how they had reported the abuse to Wilson, who failed to act. Magistrate Robert Stone said the archbishop knew that back in 1976 he was hearing a credible allegation of molestation but did nothing to protect the children but wanted only to protect the Roman Catholic Church and its reputation. Archbishop Wilson has stepped aside from his official duties but has not resigned his position. Father Frank Brennan, the head if Catholic Social Services Australia, believes Pope Francis expects him to quit. “The Pope's attitude has clearly hardened, as it should have," Brennan said. And so I would think that the mind of Pope Francis at this stage would be, that if there be a conviction of a bishop in relation of a failure to disclose abuse in circumstances where the state thought that was criminal activity, then I would think the mind of the Pope would be that that does not measure up in church terms either and that therefore it would be impossible for someone to remain in the job as a bishop, as a leader of the flock.” Child abuse in the Roman Catholic Church was part of the focus of a five-year Royal Commission into Australian institutions.  The inquiry found that criminality by pedophile priests was widespread. The church has come under criticism worldwide for failing to report or discipline priests accused of child abuse.  Earlier this month all 34 bishops of Chile's episcopal conference, in Rome for a crisis meeting with Pope Francis on the clerical sex abuse scandal in their country, offered to resign en masse. Catholicism is Australia’s dominant faith.  About a quarter of Australians identify as Catholics, although that proportion is gradually falling. 

South Korean President Met N. Korea's Kim Jong Un Saturday

Sat, 05/26/2018 - 18:20
South Korean President Moon Jae-in met North Korean leader Kim Jong Un on Saturday to discuss Kim's possible upcoming summit with U.S. President Donald Trump, the South said, the second inter-Korean summit in as many months. Moon and Kim met just north of the heavily militarized border in the afternoon to exchange views to pave way for a summit between North Korea and the United States, South Korea's presidential office said. Moon will announce the outcome of his two-hour meeting with Kim on Sunday morning, officials aid.

India: Soldiers Kill 4 Militants Near Pakistan Border

Sat, 05/26/2018 - 16:17
At least four suspected militants were killed in a gunbattle with government troops Saturday after crossing into the Indian-controlled part of Kashmir from the Pakistani side of the disputed territory, the Indian military said.   Fighting began early Saturday when soldiers intercepted heavily armed insurgents along the highly militarized de facto border that divides Kashmir between India and Pakistan, said Col. Rajesh Kalia, an Indian army spokesman.   Kalia said the operations were still ongoing in the area. He said soldiers suffered no casualties.   There was no independent confirmation of the gunbattle, which occurred in the remote, mountainous and forested northwestern Tangdhar sector.   No rebel group fighting against Indian rule since 1989 has immediately issued any statement about the incident.   Rebel groups demand that Kashmir be united either under Pakistani rule or as an independent country. India accuses Pakistan of arming and training the rebels, which Pakistan denies.   Anti-India sentiment runs deep in the region, and most people support the rebels’ cause against Indian rule while also participating in civilian street protests against Indian control.   Nearly 70,000 people have been killed in the uprising and the ensuing Indian military crackdown.

Women-Driven Rickshaw Program Changes Lives in Pakistan

Sat, 05/26/2018 - 12:37
A privately run women empowerment program in Pakistan, known as Pink Rickshaw, is helping improve the lives of poverty-stricken families and impacting social behaviors in an otherwise male-dominated society. Ayaz Gul reports from Islamabad.

For Trump, There's Always a 'New Deal' on the Horizon

Sat, 05/26/2018 - 12:03
Though U.S. President Donald Trump decided Thursday to not hold direct talks with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, Trump has suggested he's open to talks down the road, if relations improve. That offer of new talks, on his terms, is part of a pattern for Trump when it comes to negotiations. And it's something that has had mixed results, as VOA's Bill Gallo reports.

Trump Says US-North Korea Talks Could be Back on

Sat, 05/26/2018 - 11:56
Is the summit on or off? That's the question North Korea-watchers are asking about a planned meeting between North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and US president Donald Trump. Top White House officials Friday expressed optimism that the talks could be back on after a surprising response from North Korea. VOA's Jesusemen Oni has more.

Man Blinded by Father, Brothers for Falling in Love

Sat, 05/26/2018 - 11:10
A man has been blinded by his own father and siblings for allegedly wanting to marry a girl he fell in love with in southwestern Pakistan. Abdul Baqi, 22, thought his family would help him get married. Instead, his father and four brothers accused him of violating Islamic values and removed his eyes to punish him. The incident occurred May 13. His brothers and father locked his mother and sisters in a room and took Baqi to the corner of the house, where they tied his hands and legs and started beating him with batons. "One of my brothers removed my eyeball using a tea spoon. Then my father took the knife and cut it as it was hanging on my face," Baqi told VOA. "One of them [brothers] stepped on my head to make sure I that I do not move and others removed my second eye," Baqi added.  Baqi is a resident of the Loralai area of Balochistan province. He did not expect that his own family would attack him and blind him. In retrospect, he said he was ready for any consequences. "If they would have even killed me, I would have still kept my promise of love and would have not begged for my life," Baqi told VOA. Ties to Taliban Baqi said his brothers have ties to the Taliban and are very conservative. His brothers had warned him that speaking to a girl over the phone was an un-Islamic act and that he was an infidel. One of his brothers, who is 18, had just returned from jihad from Afghanistan on the day of the attack. "It was his first time that he went to Afghanistan. He was shouting, 'Thank Allah, Allah is great, Jihad is only for Allah, long live mujahedeen,' " Baqi said. The brother "went on to say that we are making a mistake by going to Afghanistan for jihad. 'Actual Jihad is here in our house. The first jihad is here against this infidel.' He was talking about me as I was bleeding from my wounds," Baqi added. Arrests Baqi said a friend transported him to a hospital after the attack, and once in the hospital, he informed police about what had happened. Police arrested his father along with two of his brothers. The other two brothers escaped and are at large. The suspects told police that Baqi was suicidal and wanted to kill himself — that's why they tied his hands and legs. Baqi rejected those claims. He said his family would attack him again. After finding out about what had happened with Baqi, the girl's family agreed to their daughter's marriage with him. "The family of my love found out about the incident and sympathized with me and told me that they would marry their daughter to me without any dowry," Baqi said.

Trump to Spare Chinese Telecom ZTE from Collapse 

Sat, 05/26/2018 - 08:26
The Trump administration told lawmakers Friday that it had reached a deal that would keep the Chinese telecom firm ZTE alive, possibly clearing the way for the United States to make progress in its high-stakes trade talks with China next month. Under the agreement, ZTE would oust its management team, hire American compliance officers to be placed at the firm and pay a fine. The fine would come on top of the roughly $1 billion ZTE has already paid for selling equipment to North Korea and Iran in violation of U.S. sanctions. In return, the Commerce Department would lift a seven-year ban on ZTE’s purchase of components from U.S. companies. The Chinese company depends on these components to make its products, and the ban, imposed earlier this month, threatened to put ZTE out of business. On Friday evening, President Donald Trump lashed out at Democratic lawmakers and confirmed the news of the deal on Twitter. Last month, the U.S. Commerce Department ruled that the company had failed to live up to the terms of an agreement over ZTE’s evasion of sanctions. News of the ZTE agreement came nearly a week after the U.S. and China suspended plans to impose tariffs on as much as $200 billion of each other’s goods, putting them on the brink of a trade war. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross is scheduled to travel to Beijing on June 2 for further discussions about China’s aggressive push to challenge U.S. technological dominance.

Russia Rejects Report Blaming Russia for Downing of Civilian Airliner

Sat, 05/26/2018 - 02:44
Russian President Vladimir Putin has dismissed an international investigation into the downing of Malaysian Airliner MH17 over east Ukraine in 2014 as deeply flawed, after investigators concluded Russia's military provided the missile used in the attack that killed all 298 people aboard. Asked about the Joint Investigative Team (JIT) report during a press briefing with visiting French President Emmanuel Macron in St. Petersburg, Putin said that, while he had been too busy to read the report, "I can say right away, even not knowing what's in it." "From the very beginning, we offered to work together on the investigation into the tragedy. To our surprise, they didn't allow us to participate," said the Russian leader.  Putin complained that, while Russia had been excluded from the investigation, neighboring Ukraine was invited to take part. "The Ukrainian side is there, despite the fact that Ukraine violated international law and failed to close its airspace over territory where a military conflict was happening." Putin's comments follow a report by prosecutors from six nations that identified a Russian military unit — the 53rd Anti-Aircraft Brigade in the Russian city of Kursk — as the source of the "Buk" missile that brought down the passenger plane. It also comes amid mounting international pressure for Russia to acknowledge the veracity of the JIT findings.  The Netherlands, which lost 193 citizens in the attack, informed Moscow on Friday that it held the Russian state legally responsible and would pursue compensation. Dutch authorities say Australia would pursue similar legal action.  The United States, European Union, United Kingdom and NATO have also called on Russia to accept responsibility and fully cooperate with all efforts to establish accountability.  Theories debunked Malaysian Airliner MH17 was shot down over territory controlled by pro-Russian separatists in east Ukraine in July, 2014 en route to Kuala Lumpur from Amsterdam. At the time, intense fighting raged between the Ukrainian army and the Moscow-backed separatists. Russia has always denied any involvement in the tragedy and provided a range of theories — since debunked — arguing Ukraine was behind the attack. On Friday, Russia's defense ministry again issued a denial, saying "not a single anti-aircraft missile system" from the Russian Federation had ever crossed the border into Ukraine, despite photographic evidence presented by the JIT investigation to the contrary. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov also dismissed Russian culpability, saying the case resembled accusations against Moscow following the poisoning of former Russian spy Sergei Skripal in the UK. "It looks much like the Skripal affair when they said it was highly likely done by Russians," said Lavrov. The foreign minister then accused western powers of using the tragedy to pursue political goals. Meanwhile, the speaker of Russia's lower house of parliament, Vyacheslav Volodin suggested Russia was already preparing for additional sanctions. While the JIT report places blame squarely on Russia for providing the missile, investigators say they have yet to determine individuals behind the attack.

Chinese Cyber-Activist Huang Qi to Stand Trial in Mid-June

Sat, 05/26/2018 - 02:39
After 18 months in detention, a court in the southern province of Sichuan has announced that Chinese rights activist Huang Qi and two other activists will be put on trial June 20. However, concerns about Huang's health persist in what rights groups and his mother maintain is a politically motivated trial. Huang, who founded the 64 tianwang (Skynet) rights website, is being held along with Chen Tianmao and Yang Xiuqiong on suspicion of leaking state secrets to foreign entities — an ill-defined charge often used by the Chinese government to clamp down on dissent. Huang, 55, has been in and out of jail since he became China's first cyber-dissident to be sentenced in 2000. At that time, he was jailed for five years on state subversion charges as a result of articles posted on his website that were critical of the Chinese government. In 2009, he served another three-year sentence for possessing state secrets after he published complaints about the collapse of poorly-built school buildings during the deadly earthquake in Wenchuan, Sichuan in 2008. Deteriorating health His mother and international rights groups have warned of his deteriorating health, fearing that he may die in the police-run detention center. Earlier this week, as German Chancellor Angela Merkel arrived in Beijing for a visit, the European Union called for Huang's release along with several other human rights defenders. "He hasn't received timely and effective medical treatment during his 520-day detention, which led to the rapid deterioration of his health," Huang's 85-year-old mother Pu Wenqing told VOA. "He has edema in his face, both arms, legs and feet, an indication of his severe kidney failure. He has also lost more than 20 kilograms," added Pu, who is a doctor. Officials at the Mianyang Intermediate People's Court in Sichuan could not be reached to comment on the case or request for medical parole. Authorities have repeatedly rejected requests to release Huang on medical parole, but his mother continues her efforts, demanding the detention center provide her son with a healthy diet that is low-fat, low-sodium and protein-rich. Huang previously told his lawyer Sui Muqing that he further suffers from hydrocephalus, heart disease and emphysema. Late last year, rights groups reported that he had been tortured and beaten by police. Authorities have not commented on the allegations. According to media reports, citing Sui, Huang said that he had been forced to stand for up to six hours a day over a period of several weeks for the police's interrogation in order to get him to confess to his alleged crimes. Huang has reportedly said a"forced confession would only happen over my dead body." Classified document During Thursday's hearing, which lasted nearly six hours, Huang insisted he is innocent. "We know for sure that Huang has been wrongfully charged," his lawyer Li Jinlin said. "But the fact that one of those documents or reports provided by petitioners is now classified as top [state] secrets and led to the arrest of several people shows that someone [powerful] is manipulating [Huang's case] from behind the scenes," he added. No access The lawyer's repeated applications to review classified materials have been rejected by the Mianyang City's procuratorate, citing China's law on guarding state secrets. But Li argued that it is "ridiculous" to classify materials presented by petitioners to authorities, whose nature should be public information. Without access to classified materials, including a dozen digital discs, lawyers will be denied rights to practice law and defend for his clients, Li added. Huang's legal representatives have demanded the court re-assess if those materials should be classified as top state secrets before Huang stands trial. However, Li said he has scant hope for Huang to walk free after next month's trial even though the trio's act is not only legal but has done no harm to  society. Huang's mother is also worried authorities "fabricated" classified materials that will lead to Huang's guilty verdict. "He has truly leaked no state secrets. Huang had reported nothing but facts presented by petitioners about cases of death and injuries due to forced demolitions and evictions in Sichuan as well as the collusion between government officials and business owners," Pu argued. Huang's criminalization Pu said Huang's activism has led to his divorce. Friends and relatives have also cut ties with the mother-and-son. "Every day, I bathe my cheeks with tears. On no charge, I was also taken in police custody for 19 days after the night Huang was arrested," she said. "I'm a doctor. They went to my hospital, telling everyone that I'm a political prisoner so as to alienate them from me. My relatives were also coerced into distancing us," she added. Despite that, Pu said \she took pride in her son's integrity and bravery. Huang's activism has won him recognition from the U.S. government and many international rights groups, which have long urged China to free the activist. Reporters Without Borders awarded Huang the Cyber-Freedom prize in 2004 while the Wei Jinsheng Foundation honored him as a co-awardee of Chinese Democracy Campaign Prize in 2008.

Pakistan Denies Mistreating US Diplomats

Sat, 05/26/2018 - 01:24
Pakistan rejected Friday U.S. assertions American diplomats in the country are being mistreated as relations between the two uneasy allies in the "war on terrorism" continue to deteriorate. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo raised the issue Wednesday about the treatment of U.S. diplomats serving in Pakistan during a Senate panel hearing. "My officers, our state department officers are being treated badly as well, folks working in the embassies and councils [and] in other places are not being treated well by the Pakistani government either," Pompeo said. When asked about Pompeo's assertions at his weekly news conference Friday, however, Pakistani Foreign Ministry spokesman Mohammad Faisal disagreed. "The Foreign Ministry has not received any specific complaints from the U.S. side after the establishment of the mechanism to resolve the issue on treatment of U.S. diplomats in Pakistan," he said. Faisal noted that "every possible support as per international laws and norms as well as reciprocity" is being given to diplomats from all countries in Pakistan. Earlier this month, Washington ordered Pakistani diplomats in the U.S. not to travel beyond 40 kilometers from their posts without prior permission. Islamabad retaliated and imposed similar restrictions on American diplomats in the country. In January, President Trump suspended nearly $2 billion in military assistance to Pakistan until the country moves decisively against terrorist sanctuaries on its territory being used to launch deadly attacks on American forces in neighboring Afghanistan. The allegations have long dogged Islamabad's relations with Washington. Traditionally mistrusted mutual ties have been particularly on the downslide since August when President Donald Trump announced a new South Asia Strategy, blaming Pakistan for fueling the Afghan conflict by supporting Taliban insurgents. Islamabad rejected the Trump strategy as an attempt to scapegoat Pakistan for U.S. security failures in Afghanistan. In rare comments Thursday, U.S. Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction John Sopko also questioned Washington's narrative of singling out Pakistan as the key problem. "We keep referring to Pakistan as being the key problem. But the problem also was that the Afghan government at times was viewed very negatively by their local people," Sopko noted. He was delivering a public talk at the Brookings Institution in Washington on U.S.-funded stabilization programs in Afghanistan. Sopko has until now avoided comments on external dimensions of the Afghan war. SIGAR has been submitting quarterly reports to Congress with a mandate to prevent fraud and recommend better spending of U.S. taxpayers' money in Afghanistan. In its quarterly reports, the oversight authority has regularly cited Afghan political tensions, governance issues and corruption as main drivers fueling the Taliban insurgency. "When we poured so much money into these unstable environments we contributed that problem of creating more warlords, more powerful people who basically took the law into their own hands. So, in essence the government we introduced, particularly some of the Afghan Local Police forces, which were nothing other than warlord militias with some uniforms on, were just as bad as the terrorists that were there before," said Sopko. Former commander of U.S. and foreign forces in Afghanistan, retired Gen. John Allen, who hosted Sopko's talk, also underlined the need for tackling simultaneously the triangular threat of the Taliban, narcotics and criminal patronage networks operating in the country. "If we are not properly mixed that way we will fool ourselves to believing we have defeated the Taliban in a particular area only to find out that now we got the criminal patronage networks to work in. They are deeply embedded in the society and they are well fueled with their drug enterprise."

Senior Taliban Commander Killed in Eastern Afghanistan

Fri, 05/25/2018 - 23:02
A senior Afghan Taliban commander — who served as a shadow governor for more than a dozen districts in Afghanistan's eastern Nangarhar province — has been killed by Afghan security forces, provincial officials told VOA. Attaullah Khogyanai, provincial spokesperson for eastern Nangarhar province, told VOA that Gul Mohammad Sangari, was killed Thursday in Nangarhar's Surkhrod district during a night raid by the Afghan security forces.  Khogyanai said Sangari was in the Surkhrod district to plan terror attacks in the area. He was with two other militants and wanted to escape when Afghan forces engaged him. The other two militants have been taken into custody and are under investigation. Taliban have not yet reacted to the killing of Sangari. Surkhrod is located close to Nangarhar's capital city, Jalalabad. The district is considered strategic because of its proximity to the capital city. The security situation of the district has deteriorated in recent months. The capital city has witnessed a spike in terror attacks in recent weeks. Last week, a series of explosions in and around a cricket stadium inside the city killed at least eight civilians and wounded more than 40 others. The Taliban denied responsibility for the attack.

Trump Balks at North Korea's Rhetoric, but It Has Used Worse

Fri, 05/25/2018 - 22:02
When North Korea slammed U.S. Vice President Mike Pence and national security adviser John Bolton, its language was very blunt and impolite. But it was milder than its typical crude and inflammatory insults unleashed on other top U.S. and South Korean officials. The North likely had just tried to strengthen its position in negotiations on the amount of concessions it could wrest from the United States in return for giving up its nuclear program. But its calling Pence a "political dummy" was still strong enough for President Donald Trump to cite North Korea's hostility in scrapping his planned June 12 summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, at a time when the president faced mounting pessimism at home about Kim's commitment to disarming. Apparently startled at Trump's abrupt move, a senior North Korean official who touched off his country's recent rhetorical attacks on Washington issued an unusually conciliatory statement Friday saying the North still wants to engage with the United States. A look at how North Korea's statements have evolved over the past nine days, from harsh criticism of U.S. officials and threats to cancel the summit to a near apology: Bolton criticism After canceling a high-level dialogue with South Korea, North Korean Vice Foreign Minister Kim Kye Gwan on May 16 issued a statement threatening to do the same with the Kim-Trump talks if the United States continues to "drive us into a corner to force our unilateral nuclear abandonment." Kim Kye Gwan categorically took issue with the remarks by Bolton that North Korea should follow the "Libyan model," which many experts say meant the North must take complete nuclear disarmament steps before getting major sanctions relief or other outside benefits. "We shed light on the quality of Bolton already in the past, and we do not hide our feeling of repugnance toward him," Kim Kye Gwan was quoted as saying in the statement carried by the Korean Central News Agency. Kim Kye Gwan's wording was weaker than a previous salvo North Korea fired off about the hawkish U.S. official. In 2003, North Korea's state media called Bolton "human scum" after he described then-North Korean leader Kim Jong Il, the late father of Kim Jong Un, as a "tyrannical dictator." In 2007, when Bolton raised strong skepticism about North Korea's previous disarmament pledges, state media said he "talked trash" and that he is "ill-famed for speaking ill of the countries standing for progress and peace." Pence criticism This directly prompted Trump to say that it is "inappropriate" to go ahead with the summit because of the "tremendous anger and open hostility" displayed in the North's "most recent statement." In remarks carried by state media on Thursday, Choe Son Hui, another North Korean vice foreign minister, called Pence a "political dummy" over his comments during a Fox News interview that again compared North Korea with Libya. "As a person involved in the U.S. affairs, I cannot suppress my surprise at such ignorant and stupid remarks gushing out from the mouth of the U.S. vice president," Choe said. "In case the U.S. offends against our goodwill and clings to unlawful and outrageous acts, I will put forward a suggestion to our supreme leadership for reconsidering the [North]-U.S. summit." Choe's "political dummy" comment was certain to anger the United States. But again, in the past, North Korea attacked others including Trump using worse language. At the height of nuclear tensions between the countries last year, Kim Jong Un personally called Trump "the mentally deranged U.S. dotard" after Trump portrayed him as "the Rocket Man" on a "suicide mission." His propaganda machine called Trump a "war maniac" and "mad man." North Korea's state media called former President Barack Obama a "monkey," and his secretary of state, John Kerry, a wolf with a "hideous lantern jaw." They called South Korea's former conservative presidents Park Geun-hye a "prostitute" and Lee Myung-bak a "rat." Letter of apology About eight hours after Trump publicly called off the summit, Kim Kye Gwan issued a lengthy statement saying North Korea is still willing to sit down with the United States "at any time, in any format." "The first meeting would not solve all, but solving even one at a time in a phased way would make the relations get better rather than making them get worse. The U.S. should ponder over it," Kim Kye Gwan said. Kim Kye Gwan called Trump's decision "very regrettable" but his statement still apparently focused on stressing that Trump misunderstood the North's true intentions. Experts say it was obvious the North had no plans to walk away from the U.S. summit from the beginning. It was also highly unusual for the North to make such a quick response to any major policy announcements by Washington and Seoul, and especially one that is so conciliatory in tone. "What appears to be close to an apology letter was contained in Kim Kye Gwan's statement," said Koh Yu-hwan, a professor at Seoul's Dongguk University. Choi Kang, vice president of Seoul's Asan Institute for Policy Studies. said he believes Trump used the Pence criticism as a way to pull out of the summit because his government wasn't sure if North Korea would disarm in a manner that he wants.

Trump Optimistic About N. Korea's Response to Canceled Meeting

Fri, 05/25/2018 - 21:34
U.S. President Donald Trump said Friday morning North Korea's response to his calling off a June summit with leader Kim Jong Un is “warm” and “productive.” “Very good news to receive the warm and productive statement from North Korea,” Trump said in a Twitter post Friday morning. “We will soon see where it will lead, hopefully to long and enduring prosperity and peace. Only time [and talent] will tell!” North Korea said Friday it is still willing to sit for talks with the United States “at any time, [in] any format.” Vice Foreign Minister Kim Kye Gwan, a longtime nuclear negotiator and senior diplomat, said in a statement carried by state media that the North is “willing to give the U.S. time and opportunities” to reconsider talks. What prompted cancellation Trump canceled the planned summit with Kim on Thursday morning, blaming recent threatening statements by Pyongyang to pull out of the summit over what it saw as confrontational remarks by U.S. officials. The North Korean diplomat said Pyongyang's recent criticisms had been a reaction to unbridled American rhetoric, and that the current antagonism showed "the urgent necessity" for the summit.   "We have inwardly highly appreciated President Trump for having made the bold decision, which any other U.S. presidents dared not, and made efforts for such a crucial event as the summit," Kim Kye Gwan statement said.   "We even inwardly hoped that what is called 'Trump formula' would help clear both sides of their worries and comply with the requirements of our side and would be a wise way of substantial effect for settling the issue,” he said, without elaborating.   In a letter released by the White House on Thursday, Trump said “I was very much looking forward to being there with you. Sadly, based on the tremendous anger and open hostility displayed in your most recent statement, I feel it is inappropriate at this time to have this long-planned meeting." The White House said Trump dictated the letter himself. According to a senior administration officials other factors also led the president to cancel the summit, including poor communication, broken promises and the North Korean's failure to show up for a preparatory meeting in Singapore.   “We simply couldn’t get them to pick up the phone,” a White House senior official told reporters on Thursday. The last straw, according to the White House, was an insult of U.S. Vice President Mike Pence earlier Thursday in a statement by North Korea’s vice foreign minister, Choe Son Hui. She called Pence a “political dummy” and warned — in rhetoric typical of that uttered by Pyongyang — of a nuclear confrontation. In his letter, Trump responded in kind, referencing U.S. nuclear capabilities “so massive and powerful that I pray to God they will never have to be used.”   Pentagon ready The Pentagon said it is poised for any "provocative actions" by Pyongyang. "We are in a boxer stance, we are ready to respond," Lt. Gen. Kenneth McKenzie, director of the U.S. military's Joint Staff, told reporters on Thursday.   Trump emphasized in his on-camera remarks that sanctions and “the maximum pressure campaign will continue” to be applied on North Korea while expressing hope Pyongyang’s leadership would decide to join the community of nations.   Trump’s letter caught allies by surprise. The president did not call South Korean President Moon Jae-in or Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to inform them of it, White House officials confirmed.   Moon hastily convened a middle-of-the-night meeting of his top security officials before expressing “deep regret” over the summit’s cancelation, urging direct talks between Washington and Pyongyang and adding that denuclearization of the Korean peninsula should not be delayed. North Korea had threatened to pull out of the unprecedented summit after U.S. officials advocated a so-called Libya model approach, which involved that African country’s total nuclear dismantlement before any concessions were granted.

US-China Trade Dispute Compounds Ag Industry Headaches

Fri, 05/25/2018 - 19:24
It’s been almost two decades since Illinois farmer Scott Halpin drove a newer tractor through the fields of Grundy County. Thankfully, as he helps pour soybean seeds into the planter that eventually will place them in the soil, the equipment his family is using is well-serviced and —so far — reliable. Hopefully, that doesn’t change anytime soon, because Halpin says he can’t afford it. “Not under this farm economy,” he told VOA, peering at the fields and the iconic green and yellow tractors his family owns, made in America by John Deere, headquartered in Moline, Illinois. ​New equipment more expensive John Deere saw a surge in sales and profits in the early part of 2018, but that was before aluminum and steel tariffs were imposed by the United States on China. Now Deere, which uses steel in its equipment, plans to increase prices for 2019 models to protect profits. That means it isn’t getting cheaper for Halpin to make a new purchase. “The increased cost of equipment with the declining farm economy right now doesn’t make it real smart for us, or doesn’t make it what we want to do for our farming operation here,” he said. As tensions ease somewhat over a potential trade war while negotiations continue between the U.S. and China, uncertainty remains about tariffs and the eventual impact on the U.S. agricultural industry. It’s taking a toll on U.S. farmers like Halpin, heading to the fields to plant this year’s crop. It’s also a growing concern for companies that supply the U.S. agricultural industry. Hit from both sides “For companies like John Deere and Caterpillar, they really get hit on both sides of the trade dispute spectrum,” said Mark Grywacheski, an investment adviser with the Quad Cities Investment Group. He explained that the cost for farmers and their suppliers to do business expands beyond the additional tariffs of 25 percent on imported steel and 10 percent on imported aluminum imposed by the U.S. “So, if John Deere makes a routine purchase of $10 million of imported steel, they now have to cut another check for $2.5 million to the federal government, and that increases their operating costs,” Grywacheski told VOA. “On the other side, you have China threatening the U.S. with $150 billion of their own tariffs, primarily targeting the U.S. agricultural industry. Not only does that impact farmers, but it impacts those companies with ties to the farming industry.” A daily effect Increased cost for farm equipment and concerns about competitive access to a big market like China, which has depressed prices for corn and soybeans, is creating the perfect economic storm for farmers like the Halpins. “The decline in the market has a daily effect on every farm in this country.” Halpin said the relentless news about renegotiating trade deals and tariffs also has a “daily effect” and what he wants most, almost as much as favorable weather this year for his crops, is some sense of stability. “With the negotiations the way they’re happening, it can hurt when things happen on a daily basis. It’s just kind of uncertain times here in farming,” he noted. It’s a time when, even before new tariffs, the U.S. Agriculture Department projected net farm income in 2018 to reach a 12-year low.

North Korea Willing to Talk to US 'At Any Time'

Fri, 05/25/2018 - 18:15
North Korea said Friday that it was still willing to sit for talks with the United States “at any time, (in) any format,’’ after President Donald called off a summit with the North’s leader, Kim Jong Un. Vice Foreign Minister Kim Kye Gwan, a longtime nuclear negotiator and senior diplomat, said in a statement carried by state media that the North is “willing to give the U.S. time and opportunities” to reconsider talks that had been set for June 12 in Singapore. Trump canceled his planned summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, blaming recent threatening statements by Pyongyang to pull out of the summit over what it saw as confrontational remarks by U.S. officials. “I believe that this is a tremendous setback for North Korea and, indeed, a setback for the world,” said the president in noontime remarks in the White House Roosevelt Room before signing an unrelated bill. The president also warned that the military forces of the United States are “more ready than we have ever been before,” along with allies South Korea and Japan, should North Korea take any “foolish or reckless acts.” 'Urgent necessity' for summit Kim Kye Gwan said North Korea’s recent criticisms of certain U.S. officials had been a reaction to unbridled American rhetoric, and that the current antagonism showed “the urgent necessity” for the summit. “We have inwardly highly appreciated President Trump for having made the bold decision, which any other U.S. presidents dared not, and made efforts for such a crucial event as the summit,” Kim Kye Gwan statement said. “We even inwardly hoped that what is called ‘Trump formula’ would help clear both sides of their worries and comply with the requirements of our side and would be a wise way of substantial effect for settling the issue,” he said, without elaborating. On Thursday morning, the White House released a letter Trump wrote to Kim saying: "I was very much looking forward to being there with you. Sadly, based on the tremendous anger and open hostility displayed in your most recent statement, I feel it is inappropriate at this time to have this long-planned meeting." According to a senior White House official, "the president dictated every word of the letter himself." North Korea's reaction was subdued and conciliatory.   WATCH: Trump Pulls Out of Summit With N. Korea: What's Next? The North's official news agency put out a statement by Vice Foreign Minister Kim Kye Gwan saying, "We had set in high regards President Trump's efforts, unprecedented by any other president, to create a historic U.S.-North Korea summit. We tell the United States once more that we are open to resolving problems at any time in any way." But the statement said Trump's decision was not in line with the world's wishes and that Kim made the utmost effort to hold the summit. The North Koreans were a no-show for a preparatory meeting in Singapore last week, part of a trail of broken promises, lack of good faith and poor communication prompting the president's decision, according to administration officials. "We simply couldn't get them to pick up the phone," a White House senior official told reporters during a background briefing Thursday afternoon. The last straw, according to the White House, was an insult of U.S. Vice President Mike Pence earlier Thursday in a statement by North Korea's vice foreign minister, Choe Son Hui. She called Pence a "political dummy" and warned — in rhetoric typical of that uttered by Pyongyang — of a nuclear confrontation. In his letter, Trump responded in kind, referencing U.S. nuclear capabilities "so massive and powerful that I pray to God they will never have to be used." The Pentagon said it is poised for any "provocative actions" by Pyongyang. "We are in a boxer stance, we are ready to respond," Lieutenant General Kenneth McKenzie, director of the U.S. military's Joint Staff, told reporters Thursday. Trump emphasized in his on-camera remarks that sanctions and "the maximum pressure campaign will continue" to be applied on North Korea, while expressing hope Pyongyang's leadership would decide to join the community of nations. Trump's letter caught allies by surprise. The president did not call South Korean President Moon Jae-in or Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to inform them of it, White House officials confirmed. Moon hastily convened a middle-of-the-night meeting of his top security officials before expressing "deep regret" over the summit's cancellation, urging direct talks between Washington and Pyongyang and adding that denuclearization of the Korean peninsula should not be delayed. North Korea had threatened to pull out of the unprecedented summit after U.S. officials called for the so-called Libya model approach, which involved that African country's total nuclear dismantlement before any concessions were granted. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, in Senate testimony Thursday, when asked about his meetings in Pyongyang with Kim concerning North Korean total denuclearization, responded that "there was little doubt in my mind that he understood the scope of what we were asking for." A number of analysts tell VOA News there could still be a Trump-Kim summit soon. "Don't cancel your reservations for Singapore just yet," former U.S. deputy secretary of state Anthony Blinken told VOA's Korean Service. "This is unlikely to be the final word. President Trump and Kim Jong Un are engaged in a high-stakes game of chicken based on the shared assumption that the other wants and needs the summit more." According to Massachusetts Institute of Technology associate professor of political science Vipin Narang, "This is an inflection point in the administration policy toward North Korea." Narang, an author of two books on nuclear strategy, told VOA News that "one camp may prefer to see if working-level diplomacy can get things back on track, and maybe eventually get to a summit. Another camp may try to use this as evidence that diplomacy is doomed to fail, and that denuclearizing North Korea by force — attacking a nuclear weapons power — is the only remaining option." The hardline camp would be emboldened and empowered by any future North Korean nuclear or long-range missile test, predicts Narang. "So, if Kim is truly interested in some deal — well short of disarmament, obviously — his smartest move now is to exercise restraint." Trump has responded to North Korea in "a particularly ham-handed way," according to John Feffer, the director of the Foreign Policy in Focus project at the Institute for Policy Studies. "Trump didn't just cancel the summit. He sent a veiled threat of using nuclear weapons. I hope this won't be his only opportunity to help resolve the conflict with North Korea." VOA Korean Service contributed to this report.

Taiwan Scrambles Jets as Chinese Bombers Buzz Island

Fri, 05/25/2018 - 16:06
Taiwan’s air force scrambled aircraft Friday as Chinese bombers flew around the self-ruled island, just a few hours after Taiwan vowed not to be cowed having lost another diplomatic ally amid growing Chinese pressure. Taiwan is China’s most sensitive territorial issue and a potential dangerous military flashpoint. China claims the island as its sacred territory and has vowed not to allow any attempts at what it views as Taiwan separatism. Tension between democratic Taiwan and its big neighbor has increased in recent months, with China suspicious the administration of President Tsai Ing-wen wants to push for the island’s formal independence. Tsai, who took offer in 2016, says she wants to maintain the status quo, but will protect Taiwan’s security and not be bullied by Beijing. Latest flight In the latest flight by Chinese aircraft around Taiwan, two H-6 bombers passed through the Bashi Channel, which separates Taiwan from the Philippines in the early hours of Friday and then rounded Taiwan via Japan’s Miyako Strait, to Taiwan’s northeast, the island’s defense ministry said. Taiwan aircraft accompanied and monitored the Chinese bombers throughout, the ministry said, describing the Chinese aircraft as being on a long-range training mission. The people of Taiwan should not be alarmed as the air force was well able to monitor the Chinese aircraft as they approach and during their missions and can ensure Taiwan’s security, the ministry added. There was no immediate word from China. It has said these missions, which have become increasingly frequent, are to send a warning to Taiwan not to engage in separatist activity. Lost diplomatic ally On Thursday, Taiwan lost its second diplomatic ally in less than a month when Burkina Faso said it had cut ties with the island, following intense Chinese pressure on African countries to break with what it regards as a wayward province. Tsai said Taiwan would not engage in “dollar diplomacy” and denounced Beijing’s methods, saying Taiwan and its partners in the international community would not cower to China’s pressure. Taiwan has only one diplomatic ally left in Africa, the tiny kingdom of Swaziland, and formal relations with 18 countries worldwide, many of them poor countries in Central America and the Pacific like Belize and Nauru.

Asia Surprised Trump Canceled North Korea Nuclear Summit

Fri, 05/25/2018 - 15:22
North Korea and its neighbors in the region reacted with caution to U.S. President Donald Trump’s decision Thursday to cancel the U.S.- North Korea nuclear summit. North Korean Vice Foreign Minister Kim Kye Gwan said in a statement released by the North’s central news agency (KCNA) that his country remains open to resolving problems with the United States “whenever and however,” and offered praise for President Trump’s diplomatic engagement efforts. “We had held in high regards President Trump’s efforts, unprecedented by any other president, to create a historic North Korea-U.S. summit,” said the vice foreign minister in a statement released Friday by KCNA. ​Tone and substance The conciliatory tone that came from Vice Foreign Minister Kim stands in sharp contrast to earlier criticisms, insults and threats made by another North Korean official that prompted Trump to cancel the June summit in Singapore with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. On Thursday North Korean Vice Foreign Minister Choe Son Hui called U.S. Vice President Mike Pence a “political dummy” and threatened a “nuclear-to-nuclear showdown” with the U.S. over comments made by Pence calling for North Korea to follow the Libya denuclearization model. The Libya model refers to the rapid and complete dismantlement of that country’s nuclear program in 2003 and 2004, before the easing of any sanctions. But North Korea is acutely aware that Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi was overthrown and killed by his own people a few years later, with support from a multinational military coalition that included the United States. Pyongyang has called for a more incremental process that links concessions to partial nuclear reductions and postpones complete denuclearization until its undefined security demands are met. Trump blamed the “tremendous anger and open hostility” from Pyongyang for forcing the cancelation of the summit, but many analysts say the issue was more about substance over tone and the unbridgeable gap between the two denuclearization positions. But North Korea’s measured reaction to Trump’s rejection letter also offered the opportunity for the summit to be held in the future, raising hope that diplomatic progress is still possible. “I think it is worth positively evaluating North Korea showing its willingness to continue the talks with the U.S., while calmly assessing the current situation,” said Kim Yong-hyun, a professor of North Korean studies at Dongguk University in Seoul. ​South Korea Trump reportedly made the decision to withdraw from the summit without consulting other key countries in the region affected by the North Korea nuclear threat. South Korean President Moon Jae-in held a late night national security meeting to assess the fallout from the summit cancelation. Moon reportedly said he was “perplexed” by the decision to cancel and urged Trump and Kim to communicate directly to resolve the impasse. Moon had been instrumental in facilitating U.S.-North Korea talks by persuading Kim to agree to a broad denuclearization goal at the recent inter-Korean summit. On Friday, Unification Minister Cho Myoung-gyon said South Korea would continue to strive to fulfill the peace building goals of that summit, and said he believes North Korea also remains committed to finding a peaceful solution to the nuclear standoff. “It appears that (the North) remains sincere in implementing the agreement and making efforts on denuclearization and peace building,” the unification minister said. Japan In Tokyo, Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga voiced support for President Trump’s decision to pull out of the summit with North Korea and called for continued enforcement of the United Nations sanctions in place that ban 90 percent of trade with the North. “In order for North Korea to change their policies, it is necessary for Japan and the U.S. and South Korea to continue to apply pressure, including the United Nations sanctions and importantly with the nations that supported these (the sanctions), including China and Russia,” Suga said. China The Communist Party newspaper, China Daily, ran an editorial Friday calling on the U.S. and North Korea to maintain their “commitment to dialogue” and continue to work toward “an end to hostilities and denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.” However, President Trump had earlier suggested that China may have emboldened the Kim government to take a more confrontational position toward denuclearization talks. Trump said he noticed a change in attitude from the North Korean side after the second Kim meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping this month, and later on Twitter urged China to maintain strong sanctions enforcement. Nearly all North Korean trade goes through China, and there have been observational reports of increased trade along the border region, although Beijing denies it has eased sanctions restrictions. However it would not be surprising for Beijing to allow increased informal trade with Pyongyang, given Kim’s improved relationship with Xi, and the unilateral good faith measures taken by the North that include the destruction of it nuclear test site on Thursday, the release of U.S. prisoners, and the continued suspension of further nuclear and missile tests. “Although China publicly says that it is fully following the U.N. sanctions against North Korea, it will ease the sanction compared to the past in the process of improving the relations with North Korea,” said Seo Jeong-kyung, a professor with the Sungkyun Institute of China Studies in Seoul. Russia Russian President Vladimir Putin said, “we took this news with regret,” in reacting to Trump’s announcement canceling the North Korea summit. He also voiced support for his North Korean ally, saying Kim had done “everything that he had promised in advance, even blowing up the tunnels and shafts” of his country’s nuclear testing site. Lee Yoon-jee in Seoul contributed to this report.

Trump Pulls Out of Summit With N. Korea: What's Next?

Fri, 05/25/2018 - 13:10
U.S. President Donald Trump's announcement Thursday canceling a meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has sparked reactions from disappointment to approval. Trump said the angry rhetoric from Pyongyang makes the meeting on denuclearizing the Korean Peninsula inappropriate at this time. Critics say recent statements by Vice President Mike Pence and National Security Adviser John Bolton were not helpful. But as VOA's Zlatica Hoke reports, some analysts say there may be another reason.