North Macedonia, May 5 (AP/UNB) — Polls have opened in North Macedonia for a presidential election runoff between two top vote-getters from the first round.
More than 3,400 polling stations opened at 7 a.m. Sunday.
The two candidates, Stevo Pendarovski of the ruling Social Democrats, and Gordana Siljanovska Davkova, backed by the conservative opposition VMRO-DPMNE party, finished in a near dead heat, with about 42% of the votes each, in the first round on April 21.
A key question is whether turnout will reach the 40% needed for the election to be valid. The first round barely made it past, with a turnout of 41.8%.
If declared invalid, the two-round contest for the largely ceremonial post will be repeated.
Indonesia, May 5 (AP/UNB) — Indonesian authorities resumed their tough stance against illegal fishing in the country's waters by sinking 51 foreign ships Saturday, as the government ramps up efforts to exert greater control over its vast maritime territory.
The seized ships were sunk at five ports across the archipelago, which has some of the world's richest fishing grounds, the Maritime and Fisheries Ministry said in a statement.
The seized vessels sunk included 38 Vietnamese-flagged ships, 6 Malaysian, 2 Chinese and 1 Filipino. The rest were foreign-owned ships using Indonesian flag.
Fisheries Minister Susi Pudjiastuti said in a speech that the illegal boats were a threat to the local fishing industry. Their operators are frequently perpetrators of modern day slavery.
"This crime of illegal fishing in our waters was out of mind," Pudjiastuti said. "We can't tolerate anymore."
Saturday's events were carried out in a low-key fashion compared with previous occasions, when boats were blown to pieces and their destruction broadcast live.
A video taken off Datuk island in West Kalimantan province and released by the ministry showed Pudjiastuti and other fishery officers scrambling to an adjacent boat from a sinking vessel that had been filled with sand and flooded. She clapped her hands when she saw several ships successfully sunk.
The move came a week after an Indonesian navy patrol ship was rammed by two Vietnamese coast guard ships after intercepting a boat it says was fishing illegally in its waters. The Vietnamese claimed that the area was Vietnamese waters.
Indonesia detained 12 Vietnamese fishermen from the boat, which sank in last Saturday's clash, and they are being held at a naval base on Natuna island.
Indonesian government says it has sunk more than 500 illegal fishing vessels since October 2014, many with explosives.
Last year, the ministry sunk 125 mostly foreign vessels, included 86 Vietnamese-flagged ships, 20 Malaysian and 14 from the Philippines.
Indonesia, an archipelago of more than 17,000 islands, claims a huge exclusive economic zone, which is frequently penetrated by foreign fishing vessels. Its northerly reaches are regarded by China as its traditional fishing grounds despite their distance from the Chinese mainland.
Beirut, May 5 (AP/UNB) — Syrian government bombardment of rebel-held areas in the country's northwest has killed and wounded dozens and forced thousands to flee their homes, further endangering an eight-month truce in the last major rebel stronghold, opposition activists said Saturday.
The recent escalation of violence is the most serious in Idlib province and nearby areas since Russia and Turkey negotiated a cease-fire in September. The shaky truce had averted a major government offensive on the last major rebel stronghold in Syria.
On Saturday, government forces were sending new reinforcements toward Idlib, including tanks, armored personnel carriers and hundreds of troops.
Over the past weeks, government forces have bombarded rebel-held areas while al-Qaida-linked militants attacked army positions around Idlib killing more than two dozen troops and pro-government gunmen over the past week.
"The command's orders were given to bring these big reinforcements to respond to violations," a Syrian officer who asked that his name not be made public told The Associated Press. "We are waiting for orders to begin a military operation, God willing, soon."
The opposition's Syrian Civil Defense said 22 civilians have been killed and more than 60 wounded in airstrikes and shelling since Friday morning.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a war monitor, reported more than 115 strikes against rebel-held areas on Saturday alone. It said six civilians were killed on Saturday raising to 67 the number of civilians and insurgents killed since Tuesday when the government began its new campaign.
Syria's state news agency SANA reported that government forces targeted positions of the al-Qaida-linked Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, or HTS, the most powerful group in Idlib.
In violence in other parts of northern Syria, Turkey's defense ministry announced one Turkish soldier was killed and one lightly wounded in northwestern village of Tel Rifaat when Syrian Kurdish fighters shot at Turkish troops. The ministry said Turkish troops launched a counter-attack.
The attack was believed to have been carried out by the Syrian Kurdish People's Protection Units, or YPG, which Turkey considers a terrorist organization with links to Kurdish insurgency inside Turkey.
The attack came days after YPG militants carried out an attack in a Turkish-controlled region in northern Syria killing a soldier and wounding three others. 2016.
Sudan, May 5 (AP/UNB) — The organizers of the protests that drove former Sudan president Omar al-Bashir from power said Saturday that security forces attempted to forcefully break up a sit-in in the Darfur region.
The Sudanese Professionals Association, which has spearheaded more than four months of protests, said security forces and "remnants of the ousted regime" tried to disperse protesters outside a military facility in the city of Nyala.
Activist Mustafa Baz said clashes erupted when marchers from a refugee camp in Darfur attempted to join the sit-in.The SPA said "many" protesters were wounded.
The attempted break-up comes as protesters have toned down some of their demands in an attempt to ease tensions with the ruling military council that took over the country after ousting al-Bashir last month.
South Darfur governor Maj. Gen. Hashim Mahmoud said around 5,000 people marched form the Otash camp and clashed with troops outside the military facility, according to the state-run SUNA news agency. He said security forces used tear gas to disperse the protesters.
Mahmoud said at least four shoulders were wounded and there were no wounded protesters.
South Korea, May 5 (AP/UNB) — North Korean state media on Sunday showed leader Kim Jong Un observing live-fire drills of long-range multiple rocket launchers and what appeared to be a new short-range ballistic missile, a day after South Korea expressed concern that the launches were a violation of an inter-Korean agreement to cease all hostile acts.
Pyongyang's official Korean Central News Agency said Kim expressed "great satisfaction" over Saturday's drills and stressed that his front-line troops should keep a "high alert posture" and enhance combat ability to "defend the political sovereignty and economic self-sustenance of the country."
The weapons launches were a likely sign of Pyongyang's growing frustration at stalled diplomatic talks with Washington meant to provide coveted sanctions relief in return for nuclear disarmament. They also highlighted the fragility of the detente between the Koreas, which in a military agreement reached last September vowed to completely cease "all hostile acts" against each other in land, air and sea.
South Korea said it's "very concerned" about North Korea's weapons launches, calling them a violation of the agreements to reduce animosities between the countries. The statement, issued after an emergency meeting Saturday of top officials at the presidential Blue House in Seoul, also urged North Korea to stop committing acts that would raise military tensions and join efforts to resume nuclear diplomacy.
"Praising the People's Army for its excellent operation of modern large-caliber long-range multiple rocket launchers and tactical guided weapons, he said that all the service members are master gunners and they are capable of carrying out duty to promptly tackle any situation," the KNCA paraphrased Kim as saying. "He stressed the need for all the service members to keep high alert posture and more dynamically wage the drive to increase the combat ability so as to defend the political sovereignty and economic self-sustenance of the country and ... the security of the people from the threats and invasion by any forces."
The North's official Rodong Sinmun newspaper published photos that showed Kim, equipped with binoculars, observing tests of different weapons systems, including multiple rocket launchers and what appeared to be a short-range missile fired from a launch vehicle, and also an explosion of what seemed to be a target set on island rocks.
Kim Dong-yub, an analyst from Seoul's Institute for Far Eastern Studies, said the North Korean missile appeared to be modeled after Russia's 9K720 Iskander mobile short-range ballistic missile system. The solid-fuel North Korean missile, which was first revealed in a Pyongyang military parade in February, is potentially capable of conducting nuclear strikes on all areas of South Korea, Kim said.
"The North tried to clearly demonstrate its abilities to strike any target on the Korean Peninsula, including U.S. troops stationed across the country in areas such as Seoul, Pyeongtaek, Daegu and Busan," Kim said.
South Korea's Joint Chiefs of Staff said that "several projectiles" had been launched from near the coastal town of Wonsan and that they flew up to 200 kilometers (125 miles) before splashing into the sea toward the northeast. That roughly matched the distance between the area and the South Korean capital of Seoul, although the North in Sunday's report did not issue any direct threat or warning toward the South or the United States. Experts say the North may increase these sorts of low-level provocations to apply pressure on the United States to agree to reduce crushing international sanctions.
The launches comes amid a diplomatic breakdown that has followed the failed summit earlier this year between President Donald Trump and Kim Jong Un over the North's pursuit of nuclear bombs that can accurately target the U.S. mainland. The North probably has viable shorter-range nuclear armed missiles, but it still needs more tests to perfect its longer-range weapons, according to outside analysts.
Trump said Saturday that he still believes a nuclear deal with North Korea will happen. He tweeted that Kim "fully realizes the great economic potential of North Korea, & will do nothing to interfere or end it."
Trump added: "He also knows that I am with him & does not want to break his promise to me. Deal will happen!"
Pyongyang has recently demanded that U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo be removed from nuclear negotiations and criticized national security adviser John Bolton. North Korea also said last month that it had tested a new type of unspecified "tactical guided weapon."
North Korea could choose to fire more missiles with longer ranges in coming weeks to ramp up its pressure on the United States to come up with a roadmap for nuclear talks by the end of this year, said Nam Sung-wook, a professor at Korea University.
"North Korea wants to say, 'We have missiles and nuclear weapons to cope with (U.S.-led) sanctions,'" Nam said. "They can fire short-range missiles a couple more times this month, and there is no guarantee that they won't fire a medium-range missile next month."
North Korea last conducted a major missile test in November 2017 when it flight-tested an intercontinental ballistic missile that demonstrated potential capability to reach deep into the U.S. mainland. That year saw a string of increasingly powerful weapons tests from the North and a belligerent response from Trump that had many in the region fearing war.
During the diplomacy that followed those weapons tests, Kim said that the North would not test nuclear devices or ICBMs. The short-range projectiles launched on Saturday don't appear to violate that self-imposed moratorium, and they may instead be a way to register Kim's displeasure with Washington without having the diplomacy collapse.
South Korea's liberal president, Moon Jae-in, has doggedly pursued engagement with the North and is seen as a driving force behind the two summits between Trump and Kim.
South Korean Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha talked by phone with Pompeo about the North Korean launches. The Foreign Ministry also said that South Korea's chief nuclear envoy, Lee Do-hoon, had a telephone conversation with Stephen Biegun, the U.S. special representative for North Korea who is scheduled to travel to Seoul next week for talks.