United Nations, Dec 18 (AP/UNB) — The U.N. General Assembly on Monday condemned North Korea's "systematic, widespread and gross violations of human rights" and its diversion of resources into pursing nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles over the welfare of its people.
It noted "with concern" that over 10 million North Koreans are estimated to be undernourished and that there is "an unacceptably high prevalence of chronic and acute malnutrition" in the reclusive northeast Asian nation.
The resolution, sponsored by Japan and the European Union, was adopted by consensus, though countries including Russia, China, Cuba and Venezuela disassociated themselves from it. Many expressed opposition to assembly resolutions singling out specific countries and said the Geneva-based Human Rights Council should deal with rights issues.
North Korea's U.N. ambassador, Kim Song, said his country "categorically rejects" the resolution, calling it "a product of (a) political plot and hostile forces."
He accused Japan of "provoking confrontation" with North Korea "by going back against the main trend in (the) Korean peninsula" when delicate political negotiations are underway.
Since North Korean leader Kim Jong Un reached out to South Korea and the United States early this year, the two Korean leaders have met several times and Kim held a historic summit with President Donald Trump — with another one expected in the new year. But there has been no significant progress on Kim's commitment to nuclear disarmament, and as a result no lifting of U.N. or U.S. sanctions against North Korea.
The resolution's approval followed the U.S. failure to get enough votes to discuss North Korea's human rights record in the Security Council a week ago. It had succeeded for the last four years, and diplomats said the U.S. is likely to try again in the new year when five new members join the council.
A statement released Monday by North Korea's U.N. Mission noted opposition to the U.S. move and asserted again that the Security Council "is neither a place for discussion on any human rights issue nor a platform where a human rights issue is politicized to flare up confrontation."
Whatever the change in the Security Council's composition, North Korea said it shouldn't be used as a platform "where U.S.'s high-handedness and arbitrary practice would prevail."
The General Assembly resolution adopted Monday expresses "very serious concern" at reports of torture, detention, rape, public executions, the imposition of the death penalty, the absence of the rule of law, and "collective punishments extending up to three generations."
It also expressed concern at forced labor in North Korea and its "extensive system of political prison camps where a vast number of persons are deprived of their liberty and subjected to deplorable conditions" as well as "all-pervasive and severe restrictions, both online and offline, on the freedoms of thought, conscience, religion or belief, opinion and expression, peaceful assembly and association."
The resolution condemns "the systematic abduction, denial of repatriation and subsequence enforced disappearance of persons, including those from other countries, on a large scale."
It "acknowledges" the findings of the U.N. commission of inquiry on North Korea in 2014. The commission said testimony and information it gathered "provide reasonable grounds to believe that crimes against humanity have been committed in the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, pursuant to policies established at the highest level of the state for decades and by institutions under the effective control of its leadership."
The General Assembly strongly urged North Korea "to immediately put an end to the systematic, widespread and grave violations of human rights" by fully implementing U.N. resolutions and recommendations including closing prison camps and releasing all political prisoners.
Srinagar, Dec 17 (AP/UNB) — Armed soldiers and police have fanned out across much of Indian-controlled Kashmir and are enforcing a security lockdown to foil a public march separatists have called from heading to India's military headquarters in the disputed region.
Government forces Monday patrolled streets in the region's main city of Srinagar and sealed off all the roads leading to the Indian army's main garrison in the city.
Three Kashmiri leaders, known as Joint Resistance Leadership, or JRL, called for Kashmiris to march to the army cantonment in protest of the Saturday's killings of seven civilians and three rebels during an Indian counterinsurgency operation.
The Indian army in a statement has appealed for people to not to heed the call.
Kashmir is divided between India and Pakistan but claimed by both in its entirety.
Tokyo, Dec 17 (AP/UNB) — A suspected gas explosion destroyed wooden buildings housing a restaurant and a real estate office in northern Japan on Sunday night, injuring 42 people, police and local media said.
The powerful explosion in Sapporo, the capital city of Japan's northern main island of Hokkaido, shook nearby buildings, shattered windows and scattered wooden debris across the area. Some residents told reporters they thought the blast was an earthquake.
One person was in serious condition, but police said the other injuries were mostly mild.
Police are investigating the cause of the explosion in Sapporo's Toyohira district. Kyodo news agency reported that a gas safety center official noted five propane gas tanks outside of the pub and two outside the real estate office.
The fire burned for nearly six hours, Kyodo said, and photographs and TV footage showed smoke rising above charred, collapsed debris as dozens of firefighters poured water onto the building. Windows on an apartment building next door were broken, and cars parked outside were partially covered with debris that had fallen on them.
A witness told Japanese public broadcaster NHK that he smelled gas after the sound of an explosion. It said neighbors were being provided shelter overnight.
Colombo, Dec 17 (AP/UNB) — Sri Lanka's president accused newly reappointed Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe of corrupt leadership in a scathing speech Sunday in which he voiced doubts about their ability to work together and signaled the 2-month political crisis is far from resolved.
President Maithripala Sirisena administered the oath that returned Wickremesinghe to office, then gave a speech soon after the ceremony, telling the prime minister and a group of his lawmakers that he can't find people of honesty and integrity to help him take the country forward.
"With the issues we have, I am not sure what guarantees we have that we could go on this journey together," Sirisena told Wickremesinghe.
The swearing in took place privately, with only a few lawmakers in attendance and media not permitted. It initially indicated an end to the impasse, but Sirisena's speech is a sign of more acrimony, possibly leading to early parliamentary elections. A new Cabinet is expected to be sworn in soon.
Wickremesinghe spoke separately at his official residence and refrained from responding to Sirisena. "Now I will assume duties of the office of prime minister," Wickremesinghe told his cheering supporters.
"Unfortunately, during the past few weeks, the progress of this country and the development programs that we undertook were stalled," he said. "Not only that, the country went backward. Today we commit firstly to bring back normalcy and resuming the development program."
In his televised speech, Sirisena said his reasons for firing Wickremesinghe included a lack of interest in helping investigate an alleged insider trade during a bond issue, in which a former Central Bank governor who is a close friend of Wickremesinghe is implicated.
He also said Wickremesinghe's ministers alienated Buddhist monks by having them arrested for keeping unlicensed captive elephants at temples. Sri Lanka is a predominantly Buddhist nation with an influential clergy.
Sirisena also criticized Wickremesinghe for investigations into alleged abuses during the long civil war that ended in 2009. The president said Wickremesinghe had only government soldiers arrested but had not looked into prosecuting former Tamil Tiger rebels he said were hiding in foreign countries.
"My view is that we should prosecute everyone, or else we should negotiate with the international community and free our soldiers (from accusations)," he said.
Both sides were accused of grave wartime abuses. According to a U.N. report, at least 40,000 ethnic Tamil civilians were killed just in the final months of the fighting.
Wickremesinghe had insisted his abrupt firing on Oct. 26 was unlawful. Sirisena's choice for prime minister, former strongman Mahinda Rajapaksa, lost two no-confidence votes in Parliament but continued to hold the office with Sirisena's support.
When his opponents went to court, the Court of Appeal suspended Rajapaksa and his Cabinet from functioning in their offices. Rajapaksa asked the Supreme Court to lift the suspension, but it refused and extended the suspension until mid-January, forcing Rajapaksa to resign on Saturday.
The suspension had left Sri Lanka without a government and in danger of being unable to spend government money from Jan. 1. It is also committed to repay $1 billion in foreign debts in January.
"We can be proud of the way our Parliament and Supreme Court did their duties according to the law," Wickremesinghe said Sunday, adding that the Supreme Court had strengthened the freedom of the citizens by interpreting the law accurately.
"We all need a normal life, we need our progress and it is to this that we are committed," he said.
Sirisena was health minister in Rajapaksa's Cabinet when he defected to join Wickremesinghe and challenge Rajapaksa in the 2015 presidential election. After winning the election, he formed a government with Wickremesinghe as prime minister, but the two leaders started to have differences over economic policy and the investigations of alleged wartime abuses.
Sri Lanka, Dec 16 (AP/UNB) — Sri Lanka's president has reappointed Ranil Wickremesinghe as prime minister, nearly two months after firing him and setting off weeks of political stalemate.
Wickremesinghe's United National Party says on its official Twitter account that Wickremesinghe took oath before President Maithripala Sirisena on Sunday.
The move promises to ease 50 days of political crisis, but could also be the beginning of a difficult cohabitation between the two leaders now in rival camps. A new Cabinet is expected to be sworn in soon.
Sirisena abruptly sacked Wickremesinghe Oct. 26 and appointed former strongman Mahinda Rajapaksa in his place. Wickremesinghe insisted his removal was unlawful and Rajapaksa failed to get Parliament's approval.
The Supreme Court on Friday extended a lower court suspension of Rajapaksa, which forced him to resign on Saturday.