Seoul, Oct 16 (AP/UNB) — North Korea released a series of photos Wednesday showing leader Kim Jong Un riding a white horse to a sacred mountain he has often climbed before making key decisions. Near the mountain, Kim reportedly vowed to overcome U.S.-led sanctions that he said had both pained and infuriated his people.
The images and Kim's rhetoric appeared aimed at bolstering his leadership at home as the North tries to pressure the United States into making concessions in nuclear diplomacy.
The photos showed a bespectacled Kim wearing a long, light-brown coat and riding on horseback up snow-covered Mount Paektu. The mountain, the highest point on the Korean Peninsula, is sacred to North Koreans, and both it and the white horse are symbols associated with the Kim family's dynastic rule.
Kim previously visited Mount Paektu before executing his powerful uncle in 2013 and entering into diplomacy with South Korea and the U.S. in 2018.
The photos were released by the North's official Korean Central News Agency, or KCNA, days after North Korea's first nuclear talks with the U.S. in more than seven months fell apart.
South Korean media quickly speculated that Kim may be considering a new strategy in his dealings with the U.S. because he's previously demanded that Washington come up with new proposals to salvage the stalemated diplomacy by the end of December.
"He, sitting on the horseback atop Mt Paektu, recollected with deep emotion the road of arduous struggle he covered for the great cause of building the most powerful country with faith and will as firm as Mt Paektu," KCNA said.
North Korean documents say Kim's grandfather and national founder Kim Il Sung had an anti-Japan guerrilla base on Paektu's slopes during Japan's 1910-45 colonial rule of the Korean Peninsula. The official biography of Kim Jong Un's father, Kim Jong Il, says the second-generation leader was born on Paektu when a double rainbow filled the skies.
The white horse is also a propaganda symbol for the Kim family, which has ruled North Korea for seven decades with a strong personality cult surrounding family members. State media have occasionally shown Kim, his sister and his father riding white horses. The symbolism goes back to Kim Il Sung, who according to the North's official narrative rode a white horse while fighting Japanese colonial rulers.
There have been other horse-riding leaders, including Russian President Vladimir Putin, who was photographed riding a horse bare-chested, and Turkmen President Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedow, who took part in horse races and erected a massive monument featuring his likeness atop a golden horse.
KCNA said Kim also visited nearby construction sites in Samjiyon County and complained about U.S.-led U.N. sanctions imposed on his country because of its nuclear and missile programs.
"The situation of the country is difficult owing to the ceaseless sanctions and pressure by the hostile forces and there are many hardships and trials facing us," Kim was quoted as saying. "But our people grew stronger through the trials and found their own way of development and learned how to always win in the face of trials."
Kim also said "the pain the U.S.-led anti-(North Korea) hostile forces inflicted upon the Korean people ... turned into their anger," according to KCNA. "No matter what persistent efforts the enemy make, we can live well with our own efforts and pave the avenue to development and prosperity in our own way."
North Korea has been slapped with 11 rounds of sanctions since 2006. The sanctions have been toughened since 2016, when Kim began conducting a series of high-profile nuclear and missile tests, and they include a full ban on key exports such as coal, textiles and seafood and a significant curtailing of oil imports.
During his second summit with President Donald Trump in Vietnam in February, Kim demanded the United States lift the newer and more biting sanctions in return for dismantling his main nuclear complex, a limited denuclearization step. Trump rejected that, and the summit collapsed without reaching any deal. The two leaders held a brief, impromptu meeting at the Korean border in late June and agreed to resume talks.
Their negotiators met in Sweden earlier this month for the first time since the Vietnam summit, but the talks broke down again. North Korea blamed the U.S. for the breakdown and threatened to resume nuclear and long-range missile tests.
North Korea's lifting of its self-imposed moratorium on major weapons tests would be a blow to Trump's reelection campaign, as the president has boasted that the moratorium is a big foreign policy achievement.
Some experts say North Korea is not likely to carry out its threat to restart nuclear and long-range missile tests because that could scuttle diplomacy with Trump and dim the chances of winning sanctions relief.
Trump has downplayed the significance of North Korea's recent series of short-range missile tests. But the European members of the U.N. Security Council earlier this month urged Pyongyang to abandon all weapons of mass destruction and engage in "meaningful negotiations" with the United States.
Shenzhen, Oct. 16 (Xinhua/UNB) -- China's first domestically made polar icebreaker Xuelong 2, or Snow Dragon 2, set off on its maiden voyage for the country's 36th Antarctic expedition from Shenzhen on Tuesday afternoon.
Icebreaker Xuelong will also join the expedition, making it the first time that two polar icebreakers work together on China's Antarctic expedition.
Xuelong 2 will sail to the Zhongshan Station before conducting research in the Cosmonauts Sea and China's Great Wall Station. It is expected to return in late March 2020.
Xuelong will set sail from Shanghai on Oct. 22 to the Zhongshan Station and then conduct a series of surveys and engineering projects in the Ross Sea and Amundsen Sea. It is expected to return to Shanghai port in mid-April 2020.
The expedition consisting of 413 team members will conduct multidisciplinary observations on the sea, atmosphere, ice shelf and biology. They will also conduct preliminary construction work of China's fifth research station on Inexpressible Island, according to Qin Weijia, director of the Chinese Arctic and Antarctic Administration.
Kabul, Oct 16 (AP/UNB) — An Afghan official says that at least two security officers have been killed when a car bomb detonated near a district headquarters in eastern Laghman province.
Asadullah Dawlatzai, spokesman for the provincial governor, says that 26 people including 20 children and six security forces were wounded in Wednesday's attack in Alishing district.
He says the wounded children were inside a nearby mosque where they were studying the Quran. He said it wasn't clear yet if the attack was a suicide bombing or not, but the investigation is ongoing.
No one immediately claimed responsibility for the attack in Laghman. Both Taliban and Islamic State group are active in eastern Afghanistan and have claimed previous attacks in the region.
Islamabad, Oct 16 (AP/UNB) — Britain's Prince William and his wife Kate are traveling to Pakistan's scenic northern mountains and glaciers, drawing attention to the challenges of climate change in the South Asian nation.
The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge flew to the city of Chitral Wednesday morning.
According to Britain's Press Association, Prince William made a speech at a cultural event in the capital of Islamabad the previous day, saying he will visit Chitral to see some of the impacts of climate change — including a melting glacier — as well as meet with local communities faced with the impact of a damaged environment.
Pakistan's northern areas have witnessed flash floods in recent years, causing damages and casualties.
The royal couple arrived in Pakistan on Monday and their visit ends on Friday.
Islamabad, Oct 16 (AP/UNB) — Pakistani and Indian troops traded fire in the disputed Himalayan region of Kashmir on Wednesday, killing four civilians and wounding nearly a dozen others, officials from both sides said, as tensions remain high between the two South Asian countries.
Kashmir is split between Pakistan and India and claimed by both countries in its entirety. They have fought two wars over the province.
India sparked a new round of tensions in August, when it downgraded the autonomy of its side of Kashmir and imposed tighter controls on the area.
On Wednesday, Pakistan's foreign ministry said it summoned an Indian diplomat to lodge its protest over the previous day's "ceasefire violations" that killed three civilians, including two children on the Pakistani side of the contested Kashmir border.
In neighboring India, Lt. Col. Devender Anand, an army spokesman, said Pakistan fired at two dozen Indian army posts along the highly militarized Poonch sector Monday and Tuesday. He said Pakistani troops used mortar and machine-guns and targeted several villages as well.
Anand blamed Pakistan for initiating the fire and said their troops "befittingly" responded to what he called a series of unprovoked cease-fire violations. Earlier, an Indian civil administrator, Rahul Yadav, said that a young woman and several cattle were killed due to Pakistani firing in the Poonch sector Tuesday.
Also Wednesday, Indian police officer Parvaiz Ahmed said Indian security forces killed three militants in an exchange of gunfire in southern Kashmir, following intelligence that a group of militants was hiding in the town Bijbehara town.
Indian-administered Kashmir has experienced unrest and sporadic anti-government protests since New Delhi revoked its special status.