Seoul, May 10 (AP/UNB) — North Korea fired two suspected short-range missiles toward the sea on Thursday, South Korean officials said, its second weapons launch in five days and a possible warning that nuclear disarmament talks with Washington could be in danger.
South Korea's Joint Chiefs of Staff said the weapons flew 420 kilometers (260 miles) and 270 kilometers (167 miles), respectively. It said it is working with the United States to determine more details, such as the types of weapons that were fired. North Korean state media said Friday that leader Kim Jong Un helped guide the firing of the missiles Thursday and learned about "various long-range strike means," but the statement from the propaganda services didn't provide more specifics on the type of missiles fired.
What was launched Thursday is a crucial detail, as North Korea is banned by the United Nations from testing ballistic missiles. Such a test could result in more sanctions, and the North's so far unsuccessful push for large-scale sanctions relief is at the heart of the current diplomatic impasse with Washington.
South Korea's military said earlier that at least one projectile was launched from the Sino-ri area of North Pyongan province, an area known to have one of North Korea's oldest missile bases where a brigade operates mid-range Rodong missiles. It later said there were two launches from the nearby town of Kusong, where North Korea conducted its first successful flight tests of its Hwasong-12 intermediate-range missile and Hwasong-14 intercontinental ballistic missile, both in 2017.
Kusong is also home to missile test facilities that were critical to the development of North Korea's solid-fuel Pukguksong-2, which was successfully flight-tested for the first time in February 2017, in the North's first missile test after President Donald Trump took office.
The latest launches came as U.S. Special Representative for North Korea Stephen Biegun visited South Korea, and hours after the North described its firing of rocket artillery and an apparent short-range ballistic missile on Saturday as a regular and defensive military exercise. North Korea also ridiculed South Korea for criticizing those launches.
President Donald Trump said he was not happy about North Korea's recent military tests. Trump told reporters at the White House on Thursday that "we're looking" at the situation "very seriously right now."
He said the weapons were smaller, short-range missiles, but added: "Nobody's happy about it."
Trump, who has met with Kim twice now, said: "I don't think they're ready to negotiate."
South Korean President Moon Jae-in urged North Korea to refrain from actions that could impede diplomacy. In an interview with the KBS television network, Moon also said Seoul will explore various options to help revive the talks, including providing food aid to the North and pushing for his fourth summit with Kim.
"I want to tell North Korea once again that it's not ideal to repeat actions that create various interpretations of its intent, raise concern and risk throwing cold water on the atmosphere of dialogue and negotiations," said Moon, a liberal who facilitated contacts between the United States and North Korea last year.
Moon's office earlier said the North Korean launches were "very concerning" and detrimental to efforts to improve inter-Korean ties and ease military tensions on the Korean Peninsula.
Some analysts have said that if North Korea resumes testing the kind of longer-range banned ballistic weapons that it fired in unusually large numbers in 2017 — when many feared a U.S.-North Korea standoff could end in war — it may signal that North Korea is turning away from diplomacy.
The tensions in 2017 were followed by a surprising diplomatic outreach by North Korea in 2018, when Kim attended summits with the South Korean and Chinese presidents and with Trump. But North Korea has not received what it wants most from its summitry: relief from punitive sanctions imposed over its nuclear and missile programs.
A summit earlier this year between Trump and Kim ended in failure, with the United States saying that North Korea was not offering to take enough disarmament steps in return for the widespread sanctions relief it sought.
In Geneva on Thursday, North Korean Ambassador Han Tae Song likened the economic sanctions to "crimes."
Just ahead of the Thursday launch, senior defense officials from South Korea, the United States and Japan met in Seoul to discuss North Korea's earlier launches on Saturday and other security issues. Details from the meeting weren't immediately announced.
Experts who analyzed photos from North Korean state media say it's clear that the North tested a new solid-fuel missile on Saturday that appears to be modeled after Russia's Iskander short-range ballistic missile system.
With the consecutive weapons launches, North Korea is pressuring South Korea to turn away from the United States and support North Korea's position more strongly, said Du Hyeogn Cha, a visiting scholar at Seoul's Asan Institute for Policy Studies. Following the collapse of the Trump-Kim meeting, North Korea demanded that South Korea proceed with joint economic projects that have been held back by U.S.-led sanctions against the North.
By firing weapons that directly threaten South Korea but not the U.S. mainland or its Pacific territories, North Korea also appears to be testing how far Washington will tolerate its bellicosity without actually causing the nuclear negotiations to collapse, Cha said.
"To the United States, the North is saying 'don't push me into a corner.' To South Korea, the North is saying the inter-Korean peace agreements could become nothing if Seoul fails to coax major concessions from the United States on behalf of the North," Cha said.
Some observers say North Korea may fire more missiles, including medium-range ones, to increase the pressure on the United States. Cha said North Korea isn't likely to fire longer-range missiles, such as its Hwasong-12 intermediate-range missiles and Hwasong-14 and 15 intercontinental ballistic missiles, unless it intends to completely abandon diplomacy since it is certain to invite new U.N. sanctions.
North Korea last conducted a major missile test in November 2017 when it flight-tested the Hwasong-15 and demonstrated the potential capability to reach deep into the U.S. mainland. Experts think North Korea still needs more tests to make its ICBMs viable.
Kim in a New Year's speech said he hopes to continue his nuclear summitry with Trump, but would seek a "new way" if the United States persists with sanctions and pressure against North Korea.
Following the collapse of his second summit with Trump in February, Kim said he is open to a third meeting, but set the end of the year as a deadline for Washington to offer mutually acceptable terms for an agreement.
Beijing, May 9 (Xinhua/UNB) - Wearing a white safety helmet, 26-year-old Egyptian engineer Ahmed Mansour works outdoors eight hours a day, braving temperature above 40 degrees Celsius in Egypt's southern province of Aswan.
Checking the running state of all holders and recording data from solar inverters, Mansour has been dedicated to maintaining solar panels in Aswan since 2017 when the photovoltaic power (PV) generation project he works on started its trial run.
"It is meaningful that we are using environmentally friendly ways to produce precious electricity," Mansour said.
The project is part of the overseas solar development of China's green energy company TBEA Sunoasis Co., Ltd., which officially started building four solar power stations last year at the Benban Solar Energy Park in Aswan.
The stations, with an output of 186 megawatts, are part of the giant Benban Solar Plant which aims to generate up to two gigawatts of utility-scale solar capacity through a total of 40 projects.
So far, three of the four stations have been completed.
Mansour said he was impressed by TBEA's measures to protect the environment. "During construction, waste such as garbage and sewage were disposed of by adhering to strict standards," he said.
The project is estimated to help cut the emission of more than 23,000 tonnes of dust, over 86,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide and more than 2,600 tonnes of sulfur dioxide annually.
As the China-proposed Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) advances, the country has been committed to making BRI a green cause of sustainable development.
China and the United Nations Environment Programme signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) in 2016, focusing on enhanced collaboration to build a green Belt and Road.
It has also signed cooperation agreements concerning ecological and environmental protection with more than 30 countries participating the BRI.
"The building of a green Belt and Road can help countries achieve the environmental goals of the UN 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development," said Zhai Kun, a professor with Peking University.
Last Thursday, China officially launched the International Coalition for Green Development on the Belt and Road, which could serve as an international platform for Chinese and foreign leading agencies to work closely together to conduct research and make policy recommendations on key issues as well as facilitate international dialogue.
"In the near future, the establishment of this coalition could raise the visibility and importance of green infrastructure and facilitate deeper cooperation between BRI partners," said Manish Bapna, executive vice president and managing director of the World Resources Institute.
The country has also made clear its commitment to incorporate green strategies into the BRI by releasing the Guidelines on Promoting Green Belt and Road and the Belt and Road Ecological Cooperation Plan. These documents outline a vision for sustainability.
China is willing to launch cooperation on ecological and environmental protection with countries along the Belt and Road, expand the International Coalition for Green Development and promote a coalition of sustainable cities under the BRI, according to a report released last Monday.
"The building of a green Belt and Road needs joint efforts, which could also bring win-win results to all parties involved," said Xue Li, researcher of Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.
Dhaka, May 9 (UNB) - Two days after Mamata Banerjee said she wanted to give him a "tight slap of democracy", Prime Minister Narendra Modi delivered his response while campaigning in Bengal. At a rally in Purulia today, PM Modi said coming from "Didi", he would consider a slap a blessing. He also doubled down on his "tolabaazi" or extortion allegation that had provoked Mamata Banerjee's comments, reports NDTV.
"I am told Didi has said she wants to slap me. Didi, oh Didi. I call you Didi. I respect you. Your slap will be a blessing for me," said the Prime Minister.
"I will accept it, but I will also say this - if you had the guts to slap your colleagues, who stole money from the poor via chit funds, you would not be so scared," he remarked, keeping up his relentless attack on the Trinamool chief on chit fund scandals and "tolabaazi" or extortionist tax.
"If you had the guts to slap the tolabaaz, then the Triple T....TMC Tolabaazi Tax...you would not be ruined by them," PM Modi said.
Responding to the Prime Minister, Ms Banerjee said. "I have never said I will slap the PM. I had said slap of democracy, try to understand the language."
On Tuesday, Mamata Banerjee had demonstrated at a public rally how every time PM Modi referred to her Trinamool as a party of "tolabaazi" or extortionists, she felt like giving him a "tight slap of democracy".
She said: "Money does not matter to me. That is why when Narendra Modi came to Bengal and accused my party of being tolabaaz, I wanted to give him a tight slap of democracy."
This was after PM Modi's "Triple T" -- Trinamool, Tolabaazi, Tax -- attack on her. "Right from admission in schools and colleges, jobs in educational institutes and elsewhere one has to pay 'triple T' to get their work done. But this cannot continue always," the Prime Minister had said at a rally in Bengal on Saturday.
Mamata Banerjee's Trinamool is facing an aggressive campaign by the BJP to make inroads into a state she has dominated since 2011, when she ended over three decades of Left rule.
Putrajaya, May 9 (AP/UNB) — A year after his election victory, Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad has defended his government's record but gave no timetable for handing over power to his successor Anwar Ibrahim.
Mahathir says there were hiccups in pushing through some reforms because of insufficient support in Parliament for the required constitutional changes.
The 93-year-old Mahathir has said he needed two years to fix the country's problems after ousting a scandal-plagued government. Uncertainties over the timing of the handover rattled some investors who fear it could disrupt the economy.
Mahathir told foreign journalists Thursday that he is an "interim prime minister" but there was no fixed period for him to leave. He says the transition will be smooth as any changes by Anwar will "not be radical."
Singapore, May 9 (AP/UNB) — Singapore reportedly has passed a law criminalizing publication of fake news and allowing the government to block and order the removal of such content.
The Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Bill passed Wednesday night by a vote of 72-9, a lawmaker with the opposition Worker's Party, Daniel Goh, said on Twitter.
The law bans falsehoods that are prejudicial to Singapore or likely to influence elections and requires service providers to remove such content or allows the government to block it. Offenders could face a jail term of up to 10 years and hefty fines.
Opponents in Parliament said it gave government ministers too much power to determine what was false and broadly defined public interest.
The Strait Times newspaper reported Law Minister K. Shanmugam said the orders to correct or remove false content would mostly be directed at technology companies, rather than individuals who ran afoul of the law without intent.
Human Rights Watch sharply criticized the law. It is a "disaster for online expression by ordinary Singaporeans" and a "hammer blow" against the independence of online news portals, said Phil Robertson, the group's deputy Asia director.
Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong last month defended the proposed law, saying many countries had them and that Singapore had debated the issue for two years. He rejected criticism the law could further stifle free speech in Singapore, which already has stern laws on public protests and dissent.
"They criticized many things about Singapore's media management, but what we have done have worked for Singapore. And it is our objective to continue to do things that will work for Singapore. And I think (the new law) will be a significant step forward in this regard," he said on a visit to Malaysia.
Speaking at the same news conference, Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad warned such laws were a double-edged sword that could be abused by governments to stay in power.
Malaysia's own fake news ban was rushed into law by the government Mahathir's coalition ousted in a shock election result in 2018. Mahathir has promised to try to repeal the law, though a first attempt to do so failed.