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Northern Ireland ‘should have different Brexit deal’ – EU

The European Union wants Northern Ireland to have a different Brexit deal to the rest of the UK, papers seen by the BBC suggest.

The document says the UK should take responsibility for finding a “unique solution” so people can work, go to school or get medical treatment either side of the Irish border.

Details will be published by the EU’s chief negotiator Michel Barnier later.

He has said “a lot more substantial work” is needed on the border issue.

The EU’s position paper comes as MPs prepare to debate the EU Withdrawal Bill in Parliament. The legislation will convert all existing EU laws into domestic ones ahead of Brexit – due to take effect at the end of March 2019.

Ministers said passing the legislation would form an “essential foundation” for post-Brexit Britain, but Labour has vowed to vote against it as it stands, calling it a power grab by the government.

  • All you need to know about Brexit
  • MPs to begin debate on key Brexit bill
  • EU warning over Irish border post-Brexit
  • What will the deal do to the 310-mile border?

The EU will release a series of position papers later as the debate in the House of Commons gets under way.

Plans to protect Irish cross-border co-operation in areas like health, education, transport and fishing will feature, as well as proposals around issues such as data protection, intellectual property and customs arrangements.

Ireland’s place in the EU’s single market or customs union is also mentioned in the document.

It says nothing can affect the country’s membership even though the UK government has already said it would leave the customs union.

But, the EU has also reminded Britain that negotiations can only move on when it rules “sufficient progress” has been made on issues of citizens’ rights and the UK’s financial obligations.

The UK government released its own position paper on Northern Ireland last month.

It called for an “unprecedented solution” for the border and stressed there should be no physical infrastructure – such as customs posts – anywhere along it.

But critics said the proposals lack credible detail, with Labour deriding the plans as “a fantasy frontier”.

Posted in BBC

Prince George starts first day of school

Prince George has started his first day at school – but his mother, the Duchess of Cambridge, missed the occasion as she was not well enough to take him.

Prince William dropped him off as Kensington Palace said Catherine, who is suffering from severe morning sickness, was still unwell.

The four-year-old is attending Thomas’s Battersea, a £18,000-a-year preparatory school in south-west London.

His uniform includes navy shorts and jacket, long red socks and black shoes.

The milestone for the prince comes after the Duke and Duchess this week announced they are expecting their third child.

Catherine had to pull out of public engagements on Monday and Tuesday because she is suffering from hypremesis gravidarum, as with her previous two pregnancies.

Prince William drove his son through the school gates before helping him out of the car.

The duke carried Prince George’s bag and held his hand as the pair walked up to the entrance.

The pair were then greeted by Helen Haslem, head of lower school, before being accompanied to his first class.

Prince George is following in the footsteps of his father and uncle, Prince Harry, who both attended preparatory school at a young age.

Notable alumni at Thomas’s Battersea include pop singer Florence Welch – from Florence and the Machine – model and actress Cara Delevingne, and Fresh Meat star Charlotte Ritchie.

His new school was described by the Good Schools Guide as: “A big, busy, slightly chaotic school for cosmopolitan parents who want their children to have the best English education money can buy.”

Navy Bermuda shorts

Previously, Prince George attended nursery at the Westacre Montessori School, in Norfolk.

However, his move to London coincides with the duke and duchess’s decision to begin moving their main residence to Kensington Palace, as Prince William takes on more royal duties.

Prince George, who is often pictured wearing shorts and knee-high socks, continues this sartorial staple at Thomas’s.

Pupils in reception class wear red polo neck shirts, navy Bermuda shorts and knee-high red socks with navy trimming.

The prince will also wear a v-neck jersey emblazoned with the Thomas’s emblem, as well as a navy jacket.

Former headmaster Ben Thomas said the school was “honoured” to have been chosen by the royals.

One cameraman and one photographer were at the school to capture the moment, as Prince William has previously pleaded for the press to respect his son’s privacy.

‘Goldfish bowl’

Royal commentator Richard Fitzwilliams said: “William is determined to give his family as much privacy as possible and have a life as ‘normal’ as possible but this is extremely difficult.

“The royals have made several complaints to IPSO [the Independent Press Standards Organisation].

“They are in the royal ‘goldfish bowl’ and will continue to be the centre of national and international fascination.”

Princes William and Harry – who were also photographed on their first days at school – went to the Wetherby School in Kensington, before both going on to Eton College, in Berkshire.

Their father, Prince Charles, was initially educated at home by a governess, but later attended the Cheam Preparatory School, in Berkshire.

No media frenzy as royals plea for privacy

By Peter Hunt, royal correspondent

When Prince George enters the school building, at the start of his first day there, the moment will be captured by one photographer and one camera crew.

When his father made a similar journey, to a different school, three decades ago, many more members of the media were present to record a fresh developmental stage in the life of a future king.

Prince William remembers and doesn’t want history to repeat itself.

George’s schooling will be the latest test of the Cambridge’s wary relationship with the press. They expect reporters to respect the privacy of their son and his classmates.

Attending school is a relatively new phenomenon for the House of Windsor.

Boarding school was ruled out for the home-educated Queen over fears she couldn’t be “protected from bad influences”.

And Prince Charles’s first teacher – before going to school aged eight – was a governess who taught him in a room at Buckingham Palace that contained a blackboard and a desk.

Posted in BBC

‘Pen’ identifies cancer in 10 seconds

A handheld device can identify cancerous tissue in 10 seconds, according to scientists at the University of Texas.

They say it could make surgery to remove a tumour quicker, safer and more precise.

And they hope it would avoid the “heartbreak” of leaving any of the cancer behind.

Tests, published in Science Translational Medicine, suggest the technology is accurate 96% of the time.

The MasSpec Pen takes advantage of the unique metabolism of cancer cells.

Their furious drive to grow and spread means their internal chemistry is very different to that of healthy tissue.


How it works

The pen is touched on to a suspected cancer and releases a tiny droplet of water.

Chemicals inside the living cells move into the droplet, which is then sucked back up the pen for analysis.

The pen is plugged into a mass spectrometer – a piece of kit that can measure the mass of thousands of chemicals every second.

It produces a chemical fingerprint that tells doctors whether they are looking at healthy tissue or cancer.


The challenge for surgeons is finding the border between the cancer and normal tissue.

In some tumours it is obvious, but in others the boundary between healthy and diseased tissue can be blurred.

The pen should help doctors ensure none of the cancer is left behind.

Remove too little tissue, and any remaining cancerous cells will grow into another tumour. But take too much, and you can cause damage, particularly in organs such as the brain.

Livia Eberlin, an assistant professor of chemistry at the University of Texas, Austin, told the BBC: “What’s exciting about this technology is how clearly it meets a clinical need.

“The tool is elegant and simple and can be in the hands of surgeons in a short time.”

Trials

The technology has been tested on 253 samples as part of the study. The plan is to continue testing to refine the device before trialling it during operations next year.

The pen currently analyses a patch of tissue 1.5mm (0.06in) across, but the researchers have already developed pens that are even more refined and should be able to look at a finer patch of tissue just 0.6mm across.

While the pen itself is cheap, the mass spectrometer is expensive and bulky.

Dr Eberlin said: “The roadblock is the mass spectrometer, for sure.

“We’re visioning a mass spectrometer that’s a little smaller, cheaper and tailored for this application that can be wheeled in and out of rooms.”

Dr James Suliburk, one of the researchers and the head of endocrine surgery at Baylor College of Medicine, said: “Any time we can offer the patient a more precise surgery, a quicker surgery or a safer surgery, that’s something we want to do.

“This technology does all three.”

The MasSpec Pen is the latest attempt to improve the accuracy of surgery.

A team at Imperial College London have developed a knife that “smells” the tissue it cuts to determine whether it is removing cancer.

And a team at Harvard are using lasers to analyse how much of a brain cancer to remove.

Dr Aine McCarthy, from Cancer Research UK, said: “Exciting research like this has the potential to speed up how quickly doctors can determine if a tumour is cancerous or not and learn about its characteristics.

“Gathering this kind of information quickly during surgery could help doctors match the best treatment options for patients sooner.”

Posted in BBC

Rohingya crisis: Myanmar ‘mining border’ as refugees flee

Bangladesh has summoned the Myanmar ambassador in Dhaka to protest against the planting of landmines along the border between the two countries.

It comes amid growing tensions over the huge influx of Rohingya Muslims fleeing violence in Myanmar.

A senior official in Bangladesh said they believed Myanmar government forces were planting the landmines to stop the Rohingya returning to their villages.

But a Myanmar military source said no landmines had been planted recently.

The BBC’s Sanjoy Majumder, who is on the Bangladeshi side of the border, said there had been at least three injuries caused by landmines this week.

When asked whether Bangladesh had lodged a complaint about the mines, Foreign Secretary Shahidul Haque said “yes” but did not elaborate further.

  • Myanmar conflict: The view from Yangon
  • Rohingya militants – who are they?
  • What sparked latest violence in Rakhine?

The UN has said the number of Rohingya refugees crossing from Myanmar into Bangladesh has surged since 25 August.

It says more than 146,000 Rohingya have fled violence in Myanmar’s Rakhine state, in the northwest of the country.

The conflict was triggered by an attack by Rohingya militants on police posts.

Following the attack there was an outbreak of violence which has sent waves of refugees fleeing the country, also called Burma.

Two Bangladeshi government sources told Reuters news agency they believe Myanmar has been laying fresh landmines along the border, despite the flood of refugees trying to cross to safety.

The area was mined in the 1990s, during military rule, to prevent trespassing.

On Monday, a spokesman for Mymanmar’s de facto leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, questioned who exactly had placed the explosives.

“Who can surely say those mines were not laid by the terrorists?” Zaw Htay asked Reuters.

  • Who will help Myanmar’s Rohingya?
  • Fake photos inflame tension

Ms Suu Kyi claimed that the crisis is being distorted by a “huge iceberg of misinformation” and said tensions were being fanned by fake news promoting the interests of terrorists.

She made the comments in a phone call with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, her office said.

On Wednesday, President Erdogan said Turkey would provide 10,000 tonnes of aid to help Rohingya Muslims who have fled the violence in Myanmar.

He said the Turkish aid agency, TIKA, was already delivering this aid to camps for the displaced.

There have also been outpourings of support in Indonesia, but some of Myanmar’s neighbours – including Bangladesh – have come under criticism for not doing more to deal with the crisis.

Bangladesh has previously refused to recognise the Rohingya as refugees, with Amnesty International accusing the country of sending people back to Myanmar to face an uncertain future.

Earlier this year, the government in Dhaka suggested relocating all Rohingya refugees to a low-lying island vulnerable to flooding and without roads in the Bay of Bengal.

Posted in BBC

‘Israeli jets hit Syrian chemical site’ – reports

The Syrian army says Israeli jets have attacked a military base in the west of the country, amid reports of a strike on a chemical weapons factory.

A statement said rockets fired from Lebanese airspace hit the site near Masyaf, killing two soldiers.

Arab media and a monitoring group reported that a chemical weapons production facility was targeted.

Israel, which has carried out clandestine attacks on weapons sites in Syria before, has not commented.

An Israeli military spokeswoman declined to discuss the reports, saying it does not comment on operational matters.

Lebanese media also reported that Israeli jets had violated Lebanese airspace.

The incident comes a day after UN human rights investigators said they had concluded a Syrian Air Force jet had dropped a bomb containing the nerve agent Sarin on a rebel-held town in April.

At least 83 people were killed in that attack, most of them women and children, according to the investigators.

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has said the incident in Khan Sheikhoun – which prompted the US to launch a missile strike on an airbase – was a “fabrication”.

He has insisted his forces destroyed their entire chemical arsenal under a deal brokered by the US and Russia after a Sarin attack outside Damascus in 2013.

However, a Western intelligence agency told the BBC in May that the Syrian government was continuing to produce chemical munitions at three main sites – at Masyaf, and at Dummar and Barzeh, both just outside Damascus. All three are branches of the Scientific Studies and Research Centre (SSRC).

The SSRC is promoted as a civilian research institute by Mr Assad’s government, but the US accuses the agency of focusing on the development of non-conventional weapons and the means to deliver them.

Israel has sporadically carried out air strikes on sites in Syria in recent years.

It recently accused Syria of allowing Israel’s arch-enemy Iran to build missile factories there and says it aims to thwart the transfer of advanced weaponry from Syria to the Iranian-backed Lebanese militant group Hezbollah.

Posted in BBC

Hurricane Irma causes devastation across the Caribbean

Hurricane Irma has caused widespread destruction across the Caribbean, reducing buildings to rubble and leaving at least nine people dead.

The small island of Barbuda is said to be “barely habitable”. Officials warn that St Martin is almost destroyed, and the death toll is likely to rise.

Irma, a category five hurricane, the highest possible level, is passing north of Puerto Rico.

Two other storms have strengthened to become hurricanes.

More than half of the island’s three million residents were without power as Irma caused heavy downpours and strong winds. Officials have said that power could be cut off for several days.

The most powerful Atlantic storm in a decade had wind speeds of 295km/h (185mph) and was expected to pass near or just north of the coast of the Dominican Republic on Thursday.

Live updates on Irma

Hurricane Irma first hit the dual-island nation of Antigua and Barbuda. At least one death, of a child, was reported on Barbuda, where Prime Minister Gaston Browne said about 95% of the buildings had suffered some damage.

“It’s absolute devastation,” he said after flying over the island, home to some 1,600 people. “The island is literally under water. In fact, I’m of the view that, as it stands now, Barbuda is barely habitable.”

He told the BBC that 50% of the Barbuda population were now homeless and that it would cost $100m to rebuild the island.

However, Antigua, with a population of 80,000, escaped major damage, with no loss of life, he said earlier.

Officials have confirmed at least eight deaths and considerable damage in the French territories of St-Martin and Saint Barthélemy, popularly known as St Barts.

“It’s an enormous catastrophe – 95% of the island is destroyed,” top local official Daniel Gibbs was quoted as saying.

Significant damage was also reported in the Dutch section of St Martin, known as Sint-Maarten.

Sint-Maarten’s airport, the third largest in the Caribbean, has been destroyed.

The Dutch defence ministry said: “The picture is of many uprooted trees, houses without roofs and pleasure boats on land.”

The Dutch navy has sent two ships from nearby Aruba and Curacao to assist locals, according to media in the Netherlands.

  • Hurricane Irma: All you need to know
  • The world’s most powerful storms

US President Donald Trump said he and his aides were monitoring Irma’s progress. “But it looks like it could be something that will be not good. Believe me, not good,” he told reporters at the White House.

Projections suggest it could hit the state of Florida on Sunday.

  • Hurricane Irma: A visual guide
  • How do you calculate the cost of a hurricane?

Officials started evacuations of tourists and residents of Florida Keys, a resort archipelago.

Flights to and from several airports in Florida were being suspended, while Orlando’s international airport said that commercial flights would stop from 17:00 local time on Saturday.

A state of emergency had been declared for Florida, Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands, mobilising federal disaster relief efforts.

British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson said the government was in touch with British overseas territories caught up in Irma, and was doing “everything we can to help those afflicted”.

Islands that have been hit by Irma

Antigua and Barbuda

  • Population: 90,800
  • Key facts: one of the Caribbean’s most prosperous nations, thanks to its tourism industry and offshore financial services
  • Hurricane report: Antigua reportedly escaped major damage, with no loss of life, but some 95% of structures on Barbuda were damaged or destroyed, the prime minister says, confirming at least one death

St Martin

  • Population: 75,000
  • Key facts: tourist destination celebrated for its beaches; divided between France, which calls its section Saint Martin, and the Netherlands, which calls its part Sint-Maarten
  • Hurricane report: at least six people reported killed in St Martin, according to the French interior minister. There has been serious damage to buildings, flooding, power cuts

St Barts (Saint Barthélemy)

  • Population: 9,200
  • Key facts: luxury tourist destination
  • Hurricane report: two reported killed; serious damage to buildings, flooding, power cuts

Anguilla

  • Population 13,500
  • Key facts: British overseas territory and upmarket tourist destination
  • Hurricane report: damage to buildings; extent as yet unknown

British Virgin Islands

  • Population: 20,600
  • Key facts: more than 40 islands and islets
  • Hurricane report: Irma passed over the northern islands

Puerto Rico

  • Population: 3.7 million
  • Key facts: a tourist destination but plagued by debt, poverty and high unemployment
  • Hurricane report: Irma passed close by; wide-spread power cuts; extent of damage not yet known

Islands still at risk from Irma

Dominican Republic

  • Population: 10.2 million
  • Key facts: major tourist destination, shares island of Hispaniola with Haiti
  • Hurricane prediction: Irma expected to pass close by

Haiti

  • Population: 10.2 million
  • Key facts: on the same island as the Dominican Republic; devastated by an earthquake in 2010
  • Hurricane prediction: not directly in the hurricane’s path, but remains on alert

Turks and Caicos

  • Population: 31,500
  • Key facts: enjoys one of the more dynamic economies in the region thanks to upmarket tourism, offshore finance and fishing
  • Hurricane prediction: the low-lying region is at risk of a storm surge with destructive waves up to 6m (20ft) higher than usual possible

Cuba

  • Population: 11 million
  • Key facts: one of the world’s last planned economies; a producer of sugar, tobacco and coffee, with a big tourism industry
  • Hurricane prediction: Tropical storm conditions expected to begin on Thursday night (local time)

Bahamas

  • Population: 350,000
  • Key facts: an archipelago of more than 700 islands and islets, which attracts millions of tourists per year
  • Hurricane prediction: Risk of storm surge in south-east and central Bahamas of up to 6m (20ft)

Another storm, Jose, further out in the Atlantic behind Irma, swelled to category one hurricane strength and could be near major hurricane strength on Friday, according to the US National Hurricane Center.

Although its path was not clear, Jose could hit some areas already affected by Irma.

And storm Katia, in the Gulf of Mexico, was also upgraded to hurricane status, and a warning was in effect for the coast of the Mexican state of Veracruz.

Seeing multiple storms developing in the same area of the Atlantic in close succession is not uncommon at this time of year.

Rarer though is the strength of the hurricanes.

Hurricane Harvey made landfall in the US as a category four less than two weeks ago.

There have never been two category four storms making landfall on the US mainland during the same season, since records began.

Are you in the region? Are you a holidaymaker unable to get a flight home or a resident who has been preparing for Hurricane Irma? If it is safe for you to do so, share your experiences by emailing haveyoursay@bbc.co.uk.

Please include a contact number if you are willing to speak to a BBC journalist. You can also contact us in the following ways:

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Posted in BBC

Gauri Lankesh: Indian journalist shot dead in Bangalore

A prominent Indian journalist critical of Hindu nationalist politics has been shot dead in the southern state of Karnataka, police say.

Gauri Lankesh, 55, was found lying in a pool of blood at her doorstep in the city of Bangalore.

She was shot in the head and chest by gunmen who arrived by motorcycle. The motive for the crime was not clear.

Ms Lankesh is the most high profile Indian journalist to be murdered in recent years.

Indian reporters are being increasingly targeted by radical Hindu nationalists, activists say.

In the last few years, journalists seen to be critical of Hindu nationalists have been berated on social media, while many women reporters have been threatened with rape and assault.

Ministers belonging to India’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) have also openly attacked journalists, using terms like “presstitute” (a mix of press and prostitute) to describe them.

  • Gauri Lankesh in her own words
  • Are Hindu nationalists a danger to other Indians?
  • India media profile

Who was Gauri Lankesh?

Gauri Lankesh, was known by many simply as Gauri. She edited a weekly newspaper and was known as a fearless and outspoken journalist. She was known for her secularist criticism of right-wing and Hindu nationalists, including members of the BJP.

She worked for The Times of India and later ran an independent newspaper, Lankesh Patrike, along with her brother Indrajit for several years. The newspaper had been founded by her father, P Lankesh, a left-wing poet and writer.

After a split with her brother, she left to start several publications, including her own newspaper Gauri Lankesh Patrike.

Award-winning filmmaker Kavitha Lankesh was her sister.

What do we know of her murder so far?

Ms Lankesh had returned home in her car on Tuesday night and was opening the gate when the attackers shot her, police said. She died on the spot.

Officials said they suspected she had been under surveillance by the gunmen. An investigation has been opened.

Her killing follows several assassinations of outspoken secularists or rationalists in recent years, including scholar Malleshappa Kalburgi, anti-superstition activist Narendra Dabholkar, and author-politician Govind Pansare.

The watchdog Reporters Without Borders said that radical nationalist journalists have targeted other writers, with online smear campaigns and threats of physical reprisals.

“With Hindu nationalists trying to purge all manifestations of ‘anti-national’ thought from the national debate, self-censorship is growing in the mainstream media,” the group said.

Why was she so controversial?

Ms Lankesh’s tabloid was known for its left-leaning views and was facing several defamation cases.

She was sympathetic to the Naxalites, or Maoist rebels who have been carrying out a bloody insurgency against the government, and was involved in the reintegration of former rebels.

Ms Lankesh was convicted of defamation last year for a report she published on local BJP leaders.

She was sentenced to six months in jail and was out on bail and appealing the conviction at the time of her death.

In an interview with Narada News last year shortly after her conviction, she criticised BJP’s “fascist and communal politics” and said, “My Constitution teaches me to be a secular citizen, not communal. It is my right to fight against these communal elements.”

“I believe in democracy and freedom of expression, and hence, am open to criticism too. People are welcome to call me anti-BJP or anti-Modi, if they want to. They are free to have their own opinion, just as I am free to have my opinion.”

What has been the reaction to her murder?

Her death has been widely condemned across India. Protests have been planned in several cities including Bangalore, Mumbai and the capital, Delhi.

Karnataka state’s Chief Minister Siddaramaiah was one of the first to respond to her death, calling it an “assassination on democracy”.

Noted writer K Marulasiddappa told the BBC: “The attack on the select writers is obviously happening because they are able to mould public opinion… There is a pattern in the way assailants come on motorbikes, kill, and vanish.”

“There cannot be any personal reasons attributed to her death because she had no personal enemies. So, the possibility is only political.”

The news has made top headlines in Indian media, with editors and journalists condemning her murder and paying tribute to her work.

The Editors Guild of India released a statement calling her murder an “ominous portent for dissent in democracy and a brutal assault on the freedom of the press”.

On social media, the hashtag #GauriLankeshMurder was the top trend on Twitter India.

However there have also been tweets that have condemned her and even celebrated her death.

Posted in BBC

Abe says N Korea has ‘no bright future’ if it continues on current path

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has said that he wants North Korea to understand it has “no bright future” if it continues on its current path, and that the reclusive country needs to change its policies.Mr Abe told reporters he wants to discuss the North Korea situation with Russian President Vladimir Putin and South Korean President Moon Jae-In separately when they meet this week in Vladivostok.

Mr Abe and Mr Putin are also expected to discuss economic cooperation and a peace treaty between the two nations.

Mr Abe’s comments come as Japan has again upgraded its estimated size of North Korea’s latest nuclear test to a yield of around 160 kilotons – more than ten times the size of the Hiroshima bomb.

It marks Tokyo’s second higher revision after previously giving estimates of 70 and 120 kilotons.

Defence Minister Itsunori Onodera said that his ministry’s upward revision to 160 kilotons was based on a revised magnitude by the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organisation (CTBTO).

“This is far more powerful than their nuclear tests in the past,” Mr Onodera said.

The US bomb that destroyed Hiroshima in 1945 carried a yield of 15 kilotons.

Japan’s latest estimate far exceeded the yield of between 50 and 100 kilotons indicated by UN political affairs chief Jeffrey Feltman at the UN Security Council.

Mr Onodera has held telephone talks with US Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and both agreed to step up “visible pressure” on North Korea, the ministry in Tokyo said.

“North Korea’s nuclear and missile development is at a new stage of grave and imminent threats,” Mr Onodera told Secretary Mattis, the ministry said, adding that his US counterpart shared the view.

North Korea’s test on Sunday of what it described as a hydrogen bomb designed for a long-range missile triggered global alarm and has divided the international community as it scrambles for a response.

US Ambassador Nikki Haley told the UN Security Council that Washington would present a new sanctions resolution to be negotiated in the coming days, but Russian President Vladimir Putin yesterday rejected US calls for more sanctions as “useless”.

Mr Putin’s comments appeared to have widened a split among major powers over how to rein in North Korea, pitting Russia and China against the US and its allies.

Mr Abe is expected to press Mr Putin for his support over the North Korea’s provocation, when the two leaders hold talks in Vladivostok.

Posted in RTE

North Korea nuclear test: Hydrogen bomb ‘missile-ready’

North Korea says it has successfully tested a nuclear weapon that could be loaded on to a long-range missile.

The secretive communist state said its sixth nuclear test was a “perfect success”, hours after seismologists had detected an earth tremor.

Pyongyang said it had tested a hydrogen bomb – a device many times more powerful than an atomic bomb.

Analysts say the claims should be treated with caution, but its nuclear capability is clearly advancing.

North Korea last carried out a nuclear test in September 2016. It has defied UN sanctions and international pressure to develop nuclear weapons and to test missiles which could potentially reach the mainland US.

South Korean officials said the latest test took place in Kilju County, where the North’s Punggye-ri nuclear test site is situated.

The “artificial quake” was 9.8 times more powerful than the tremor from the North’s fifth test, the state weather agency said.

It came hours after Pyongyang said it had miniaturised a hydrogen bomb for use on a long-range missile, and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un was pictured with what state media said was a new type of hydrogen bomb. State media said the device could be loaded on to a ballistic missile.

What does the test tell us?

A series of recent missile tests has caused growing international unease.

In a report on Sunday, the North’s state news agency KCNA said Kim Jong-un had visited scientists at the nuclear weapons institute and “guided the work for nuclear weaponisation”.

The North has previously claimed to have miniaturised a nuclear weapon, but experts have cast doubt on this. There is also scepticism about the North’s claims to have developed a hydrogen bomb.

However, this does appears to be the biggest and most successful nuclear test by North Korea to date – and the messaging is clear. North Korea wants to demonstrate it knows what makes a credible nuclear warhead.

  • Kim inspects ‘nuclear warhead’: A picture decoded
  • ‘Tunnel collapse’ at nuclear site may provide clues

Nuclear weapons expert Catherine Dill told the BBC it was not yet clear exactly what nuclear weapon design was tested.

“But based on the seismic signature, the yield of this test definitely is an order of magnitude higher than the yields of the previous tests.”

Current information did not definitively indicate that a thermonuclear weapon had been tested “but it appears to be a likely possibility at this point”, she said.

Hydrogen bombs use fusion – the merging of atoms – to unleash huge amounts of energy, whereas atomic bombs use nuclear fission, or the splitting of atoms.

What has the reaction been?

South Korean President Moon Jae-in said North Korea’s sixth nuclear test should be met with the “strongest possible” response, including new United Nations Security Council sanctions to “completely isolate” the country.

China, North Korea’s only major ally, condemned the test.

North Korea “has ignored the international community’s widespread opposition, again carrying out a nuclear test. China’s government expresses resolute opposition and strong condemnation toward this,” the foreign ministry said in a statement.

Japan’s Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said sanctions against North Korea should include restrictions on the trade of oil products.

Russia meanwhile said the test defied international law and urged all sides involved to hold talks, saying this was the only way to resolve the Korean peninsula’s problems.

The head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, the global nuclear watchdog, described the test as “an extremely regrettable act”.

Yukiya Amano added: “This new test, which follows the two tests last year and is the sixth since 2006, is in complete disregard of the repeated demands of the international community.”


How can the world respond?

Jonathan Marcus, BBC defence and diplomatic correspondent

North Korea’s sixth nuclear test – probably its largest so far – sends out one clear political signal.

Despite the bluster and threats from the Trump administration in Washington and near-universal condemnation from around the world, Pyongyang is not going to halt or constrain its nuclear activities.

Worryingly, it also suggests that this is a programme that is progressing on all fronts at a faster rate than many had expected. So far all efforts to pressure North Korea – sanctions, isolation, and military threats – have all failed to move Pyongyang.

Could more be done? Certainly, but the harshest economic pressure would potentially cripple the regime and push it towards catastrophe – something China is unwilling to countenance.

Containment and deterrence will now come to the fore as the world adjusts its policy from seeking to roll-back Pyongyang’s weapons programme to living with a nuclear-armed North Korea.

  • Can the world live with a nuclear North Korea?
  • Have North Korea’s missile tests paid off?

How did news of the test emerge?

The first suggestion that this was to be a far from normal Sunday in the region came when seismologists’ equipment started picking up readings of an earth tremor in the area where North Korea has conducted nuclear tests before.

Initial reports from the US Geological Survey put the tremor at 5.6 magnitude with a depth of 10km (six miles) but this was later upgraded to 6.3 magnitude at 0km.

Then Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Kono said there was no doubt this was North Korea’s sixth nuclear test.

Finally, in a radio broadcast that had been trailed as a “major announcement”, North Korean state media confirmed this was no earthquake.


China embarrassed

Robin Brant, BBC News, Shanghai

North Korea’s sixth nuclear weapons test is an utter rejection of all that its only ally has called for.

Beijing’s response was predictable: condemnation, urging an end to provocation and dialogue. But it also spoke of urging North Korea to “face up to the firm will” of the international community to see denuclearisation on the Korean peninsula.

There is no sign though that China is willing yet to see that firm will go beyond UN sanctions, which recently clamped down on seafood and iron ore exports, in addition to the coal and minerals that are already banned from crossing the border.

It is noteworthy also that this test took place just as the Chinese president was about to welcome a handful of world leaders to the two-day showpiece Brics summit on China’s east coast.

Even the state-controlled media will find it hard to ignore the fact that their man has been upstaged – embarrassed too – by its almost universally ostracised ally and neighbour.

Posted in BBC

Ruthless North Koreans leaders in Kim dynasty have made the West look ridiculous over nuclear threat

NORTH Korea’s successful test of a hydrogen bomb on Sunday has all but confirmed that Kim Jong-un has won his battle with the West. His abhorrent regime is now a nuclear threat to South Korea, Japan, Australia and the US. How has this been allowed to occur?

Firstly, Kim has absolute political power and control of his nation’s finances. He has demanded all necessary resources be diverted to his deadly ambition. Secondly, he has complete control over his population. The repressed masses of North Korea are among the most dehumanised people on Earth. While many tyrants have ruled around the globe during the past century, most come and go after a short time in power. Hitler’s 1000 Year Reich lasted 12 years, Pol Pot’s murderous utopia only four years. Kim Jong-un, his father Kim Jong-il (The Dear Leader) and his grandfather, Kim Il-sung (The Great Leader) have ruled North Korea since 1948.

The Kims are portrayed within a religious framework that includes a fable which claims that a new star and a double rainbow appeared in the sky when Kim Jong-il was born.

A carefully created cult of personality portrays the Kims as a God-like figures. The three leaders are glorified not only as national saviours, but as brilliant mathematicians, engineers and creative geniuses.

In this bizarre Marxist monarchy, there is no freedom of political or artistic expression, religion, creative thought, assembly or media. A paranoia about threats to his domination has led the current Kim to carry out many murderous purges. He ordered a former girlfriend and 11 other members of a state orchestra to be murdered by firing squad for allegedly engaging in pornography. He then ordered his uncle executed for crimes that included “dreaming alternative dreams”.

A special United Nations investigation led by former Australian High Court justice Michael Kirby described crimes including starvation, torture, forced disappearances and brutality in political prison camps.

Among the most bizarre crimes were the kidnappings of Japanese and South Koreans from the 1970s through to the early 2000s. They included teenagers kidnapped from beaches and a South Korean actor and her film director/former husband who were forced to make propaganda films for the regime until they escaped in 1989.

The three Kims have made fools of the US and the West for decades over the nuclear issue. “Talks” have been held which aimed to ensure the regime did not develop nuclear weapons. In the 1990s, the North’s economy collapsed and masses of North Koreans starved to death. The US, South Korea and Japan provided food aid and other support in exchange for promises that the North would move to end its nuclear program. But the Kims’ atomic program continued in secret while up to 500,000 people died of hunger-related illness.

Successive US presidents insisted the North would never “be allowed” to produce nuclear weapons but the rhetoric was not matched by any action.

Economic sanctions were undermined by China’s trade with Kim and its political protection of the dynasty. Recently, in reaction to news that the North may indeed be close to developing a workable nuclear-armed missile, US President Donald Trump stated: “It won’t happen.” As if.

North Korea has the required nuclear and missile technology. Fitting a nuclear warhead on to a working rocket that can survive atmospheric re-entry is all that is left. They must be very close. In short, Kim has already accomplished his atomic ambition.

Kim is not irrational and he is not about to launch anything at Guam. He makes his ridiculous comments and laughs while the world talks about it for days and takes his statements seriously.

A nuclear-armed North Korea is almost a reality and will provide what Kim yearns for most: a nuclear deterrent against a possible US pre-emptive strike. And that will provide Kim with the power to continue his tyranny and his family’s domination of his impoverished and repressed population for decades to come.

Dr Phil West is a Melbourne freelance writer whose doctoral dissertation examined US foreign policy during the Cold War