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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


  • 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


  • 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


  • 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)


  • 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

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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

Kim Jong-un’s nuclear scientists take centre stage after missile test

Leader looking to cadre of weapons experts to realise ambition of developing missile that can carry nuclear warhead to US

Decorated by Pyongyang but blacklisted abroad, two scientists pictured with North Korea’s leader before Sunday’s nuclear test have emerged as playing vital roles in the ambitions of the rogue state’s leader, Kim Jong-un, say experts.

Photographs released by the official KCNA news agency hours before the test showed two men standing alongside Kim as he inspected a new peanut-shaped warhead, or perhaps a model of the bomb: Ri Hong-sop, the head of North Korea’s Nuclear Weapons Institute, and Hong Sung-mu, deputy director of the ruling Workers’ party of Korea’s munitions industry department.

North Korea’s sixth nuclear test on Sunday showed the country has either developed a hydrogen bomb – which has vastly more destructive power than atomic bombs – or is very getting close to obtaining one.

Several North Korea leadership experts say the two scientists are part of a cadre of weapons experts at the front line of Kim’s stated ambition: developing an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) that can carry a nuclear weapon to the US.

Compared with his father, Kim Jong-il, and grandfather Kim Il-sung – who preferred small working groups and middle managers to deal with weapons programmes – the 33-year-old leader has been more personally involved with these scientists, experts say, citing his frequent appearances with the technocrats at state events, weapons tests and field inspections.

“It appears that Hong is spearheading the nuclear development programme as a senior party official and Ri is in charge of nuclear tests such as hydrogen bombs on a working level,” said Yang Moo-jin, professor at the University of North Korean studies in Seoul, who monitors the country’s hierarchy and leadership.

Reuters could not independently confirm the precise role of the two men. The North Korean government does not provide foreign media with a contact point in Pyongyang for comment by email, fax or phone. The North Korean mission to the UN was not immediately available for comment.

However, a Reuters review of North Korean state media showed the two scientists have become increasingly high profile as Pyongyang’s weapons programmes have advanced at a rapid pace under Kim’s leadership.

In January 2016, Hong and Ri were the first and second in line to receive medals personally awarded by Kim at a ceremony to mark the country’s fourth nuclear test, state television footage showed.

Two months later, they accompanied a smiling Kim inspecting a silver-coloured sphere, which the North said was a miniaturised warhead capable of being fitted to an ICBM.

The wider group of weapons technocrats includes a trio of rocket scientists who have accompanied Kim on several crucial missile launches, including two July ICBM test launches that showed much of the US mainland was now within range.

Like the three rocket scientists, Ri and Hong have been blacklisted in recent years by the UN, the US or South Korea for their roles in Pyongyang’s weapons programmes.

The UN blacklisted Ri in 2009, citing his involvement “in the production of weapons-grade plutonium”, while an expert UN panel this year noted Hong’s “key role in the country’s nuclear programme” as it recommended he also be sanctioned.

Ri is a former director of Yongbyon nuclear research centre, North Korea’s main nuclear facility north of Pyongyang. Yongbyon operates the country’s first nuclear reactors and its only confirmed uranium enrichment facility.

Siegfried Hecker, a nuclear science professor at Stanford University and one of the last Americans to visit Yongbyon, recalled meeting Ri during several visits there between 2004 and 2008. During one of these visits, Ri showed Hecker around the plutonium reactor and the radiochemical lab there.

Ri “stated with pride” that North Korea’s nuclear researchers have mastered plutonium production with no outside help, Hecker said in a 2006 report about his Yongbyon visit to Stanford’s centre for international security and cooperation. Hecker did not immediately respond to requests for comment about Ri or the North Korean nuclear programme.

Hong is a former chief engineer at Yongbyon and has been at the ruling party’s munitions department since the mid-2000s. He rose to prominence after Kim took power in December 2011 after the death of his father, according to a South Korean government database.

Hong, 75, has been seen accompanying Kim on nuclear tests and long-range missile launches since 2012, the South Korean database and pictures released by KCNA show. He was educated in central and eastern Europe and possibly in Russia as well, while Ri attended seminars abroad, said Michael Madden, an expert on the North Korean leadership.

“They are top-level officials and the last generation of those who studied in the old communist world,” he said.

South Korea moves to boost weaponry amid threats from North

SEOUL, South Korea — South Korean President Moon Jae-in took office four months ago with plans to reach out to North Korea in a way his conservative predecessors did not in the previous decade. Two ICBM launches and one nuclear test later, his government is ramping up its defenses, with some officials even considering asking the United States to bring back tactical nuclear weapons a generation after their removal from the Korean Peninsula.

Seoul’s new interest in stronger weapons received a boost Tuesday when the Trump administration agreed to remove previous restrictions on South Korean missiles.

But South Korean hunger for military strength goes beyond just missiles. Government officials also endorse the nation getting nuclear-powered submarines. And Seoul’s defense minister says the idea of bringing back U.S. tactical nukes to South Korea should be “deeply considered” by the allies.

This shift right by the liberal Moon underscores deep unease that the North’s expanding nuclear weapons arsenal will undermine the country’s decades-long alliance with the United States. Pyongyang may soon perfect an intercontinental ballistic missile that can target the U.S. mainland.

Here are some of the military capabilities South Korea is pursuing or may soon:



South Korea says stronger missiles are crucial to the so-called “kill chain” pre-emptive strike capability it wants to use to target North Korea. A pre-emptive strike against Pyongyang’s leadership would be difficult to undertake, but it’s widely seen as the most realistic of the limited military options Seoul has to deny a nuclear attack from its rival.

In August, South Korea conducted the last scheduled flight test of a new missile with a range of 800 kilometers (500 miles). It will soon join the “Hyunmoo” family of ballistic missiles that currently have a maximum range of 500 kilometers (310 miles).

While Seoul’s military says its missiles are currently capable of wiping out North Korean structures on land, it says heavier warheads are needed to target North Korea’s underground facilities and bunkers.

Following North Korea’s second test of an ICBM in July, Moon ordered his military to schedule talks with the United States to increase warhead weight limits on South Korea’s maximum-range missiles. Moon’s office didn’t announce any changes to the range limit on Tuesday.

South Korean missile developments have been constrained by a bilateral guideline between the allies since the late 1970s, when Washington sought to check Seoul’s missile development under military dictator Park Chung-hee, a staunch anti-communist who ruled South Korea in the 1960s and ‘70s. The restrictions have been eased over the years.



Several South Korean government officials, including Prime Minster Lee Nak-yon, the country’s No. 2, have been calling for South Korea to acquire a nuclear-powered submarine. South Korea’s navy is planning a feasibility study over getting such vessels, although some experts see the possibility as low.

Supporters say such vessels are critical for coping with North Korea’s submarine-launched ballistic missile system because they can operate much longer than conventional diesel-powered submarines without refueling. That gives them a better chance to find and track North Korean subs, they argue.

In August last year, the North successfully test-fired for the first time a submarine-launched ballistic missile that flew about 500 kilometers (310 miles). Such technology in the hands of North Korea is an alarming thought for South Korea and Japan because such weapons are harder to detect before launch.

If South Korea makes a real push for nuclear-powered subs, critics say it may never overcome political and technical hurdles. Washington may also balk at Seoul’s acquisition of the enriched uranium needed to operate such submarines. Critics also argue that Washington already provides its ally a nuclear umbrella of protection and can easily ship in assets to detect and contain North Korean submarines when needed.



Experts say South Korea would have an even harder time persuading the United States to re-introduce tactical nukes to the Korean Peninsula. These were withdrawn in the 1990s.

Even so, that hasn’t stopped lawmakers from South Korea’s largest conservative party from demanding the return of the weapons. Song Young-moo, Seoul’s defense minister, told lawmakers Monday that the allies should consider the issue.

South Koreans who support the return of U.S. tactical nukes often raise fears of rifts in the decades-old security alliance between Washington and Seoul because of North Korea’s expanding nuclear weapons program.

If North Korea obtains a fully functional ICBM, the United States might hesitate using its nuclear weapons to defend South Korea because of worries that North Korea might then strike a U.S. city, they say. Placing U.S. tactical nuclear weapons in South Korea would make clear the intent to use nukes in a crisis.

Critics say it’s highly unlikely the United States would ever agree because it now relies on homeland and sea-based military assets to provide its allies extended nuclear deterrence. Some South Korean military experts say the nukes wouldn’t meaningfully improve the South’s defense and would only provide North Korea more targets to destroy or even attempt to steal.

Copyright 2017 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Europe shakes off North Korea jitters


Traders work in front of the German share price index, DAX board, at the stock exchange in Frankfurt, Germany, September 4, 2017. REUTERS/Staff/Remote


By Marc Jones

LONDON (Reuters) – Europe’s financial markets seemed on Tuesday to have shaken off jitters prompted by North Korea’s biggest nuclear test yet, with stocks pushing higher and investors reversing out of bonds, gold and other safe-haven assets.

As with many political risk plays over the past couple of years, market moves suggested a reluctance to price in tail risks on every possible bad outcome and more of a focus on the prosaic but upbeat global economic picture.

Confirmation that euro zone business activity remained robust last month helped the pan-European STOXX 600 (.STOXX) to claw back most of the 0.5 percent it lost on Monday amid international condemnation of the previous day’s nuclear test [.EU].

The euro (EUR=) and European government bond yields [GVD/EUR] also tiptoed higher as risk appetite tentatively returned and the data, which also showed rising inflation pressures, put the focus back on Thursday’s European Central Bank meeting. [/FRX]

Gold – the traditional go-to for traders when political concerns escalate – eased too, dipping back from a one-year high in its first drop in four days. [GOL/]

“What the recent episodes have shown is that you should not really try to follow these things as they tend to fade quickly,” said ING’s chief EMEA FX and rates strategist, Petr Krpata.

“It is less and less surprising for markets every time, so for us it is not a reason to change our constructive view on carry currencies.”

Wall Street, which was closed on Monday, was expected to edge down around 0.2 percent when it reopened to bring it in line with the previous day’s global dip. [.N]


Overnight China’s Caixin/Markit services purchasing managers’ index (PMI), a forward-looking economic indicator, rose to 52.7 in August, the highest reading in three months.

The market reaction to that was muted, however, with sentiment in Asian equity markets still subdued. Chinese bourses eked out small 0.2-0.3 percent gains [.SS] but Seoul (.KS11) and Tokyo (.N225) remained red.

South Korea’s Asia Business Daily, citing an unidentified source, reported North Korea had been observed moving a rocket that appeared to be an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) possibly in preparation for a launch.

Speaking at a summit of the world’s biggest emerging economies in China, Russian President Vladimir Putin again warned that threatening military action against North Korea could trigger “a global catastrophe”.

“Russia condemns North Korea’s exercises, we consider that they are a provocation … (But) ramping up military hysteria will lead to nothing good,” he told reporters.

In commodity markets, U.S. WTI oil prices edged higher, while U.S. gasoline prices (RBc1) slumped to pre-Hurricane Harvey levels, as oil refineries and pipelines in the U.S. Gulf Coast slowly resumed activity, easing supply concerns. [O/R]

U.S. West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude futures (CLc1) ticked up 0.2 percent to trade at $47.38 per barrel, though global benchmark Brent prices barely budged at $52.37.

The reassuring China PMI data helped copper (CMCU3) hit a three-year high in industrial metals markets, and nickel hovered near a 14-month peak. [MET/L]

Meanwhile, bitcoin (BTC=BTSP) dropped further from Saturday’s all-time high of $4,979.9 to trade at $4,012.

China said on Monday it was banning the practice of raising funds through launches of token-based digital currencies, known as initial coin offerings (ICOs).

Vladimir Putin warns North Korea it could become like Iraq

(CNN)Russian President Vladimir Putin has urged North Korea to learn from the demise of Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein and warned it could face a similar fate unless it turns away from its nuclear program.

Putin, speaking at the close of the BRICs summit in China on Tuesday, warned against “military hysteria” in solving the crisis on the Korean peninsula, claiming it could lead to a “global catastrophe with a lot of victims.”
North Korea has come under increased pressure since launching its sixth test of a nuclear weapon on Sunday with seismological data indicating the weapon was the most powerful ever to be detonated by Pyongyang, according to nuclear experts.
Putin says Pyongyang should take a lesson from history, invoking the tale of Hussein’s demise as dictator of Iraq in 2006 and the military onslaught that ravaged the country in the aftermath of his death.


“Saddam Hussein rejected the production of weapons of mass destruction, but even under that pretense, he was destroyed and members of his family were killed,” Putin said.
“The country was demolished and Saddam Hussein was hanged. Everyone knows that and everyone in North Korea knows that.
“Do you really think due to some sanctions that North Korea will turn away from the path they’ve undertaken to create weapons of mass destruction?
“Russia condemns this action from North Korea. We think these actions take a provocative character, but we should not forget and North Koreans should not forget what happened in Iraq.”
North Korea has faced global condemnation since Sunday when state media claimed it detonated a hydrogen bomb, also known as a thermonuclear weapon, which could be fitted atop a long-range missile capable of striking the United States.
Weapons experts say it’s almost impossible to verify if the warhead and missile could be successfully paired unless North Korea were to actually fire a nuclear-tipped ICBM.

‘Begging for war’

North Korea has test-fired a number of missiles this summer, including two long-range ones in July and an intermediate-range one in August that overflew the Japanese island of Hokkaido.
On Monday, US Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley said Kim was “begging for war” and urged the UN Security Council to adopt the strongest sanctions measures possible to stop Pyongyang’s nuclear program.
But Putin told reporters Tuesday that imposing any kind of sanctions on North Korea would be “useless and ineffective,” adding Kim would rather starve his people than see regime change.
“They will eat grass but they will not turn away from the path that will provide for their security,” he said.
“We know that North Korea has nukes, we also know that North Korea has long range artillery and it has other types of weapons and there are no weapons against long range artillery — and these weapons can be difficult to locate.
“So we think that this military hysteria will not lead to good results. It could lead to global catastrophe with lots of victims.”
Posted in CNN

North Korea Crisis: Russia’s Putin Warns of ‘Global Catastrophe’

MOSCOW — Russian President Vladimir Putin warned Tuesday that ramping up the “military hysteria” around North Korea’s escalating nuclear and missile tests could lead to a “global catastrophe.”

He also questioned the effectiveness of tightening sanctions, as the U.S. has suggested, saying that they will not change the behavior of Kim Jong Un and his regime.

North Korea “would rather eat grass” than abandon its nuclear program “as long as they do not feel safe,” Putin said.

The Russian leader urged dialogue with Pyongyang.

“In this situation pressing on military hysteria will not bring anything, this may end up in a global catastrophe and huge amount of human life lost,” Putin told reporters during a visit to China.

His comments came two days after Kim’s government detonated its sixth and largest nuclear test.

On Monday, South Korea responded by firing missiles into the sea to simulate an attack on the North with more military drills being held on Tuesday.

Putin also suggested that Kim’s government had learned lessons from the U.S. invasion of Iraq that toppled Saddam Hussein, pointing out that after that dictator “abandoned weapons of mass destruction everyone remembers how he ended up. North Korea remembers this too.”

North Korea has stated in public statements that it wants an official end to the Korean War — which was halted by a 1953 armistice but no peace treaty has been signed. It also wants nothing short of full normalization of relations with the U.S. and to be treated with respect and as an equal in the global arena.

China has warned North Korea against launching another ballistic missile, saying it should not worsen tensions.

On Monday, the U.S. urged the United Nations to step up pressure on Kim and accused him of “begging for war.”

U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley said: “Enough is enough … we must adopt the strongest possible measures.” She added: “We have kicked the can down the road long enough. There is no more road left.”

On Sunday, President Donald Trump tweeted that he was considering stopping all trade with any country doing business with the secretive regime.

North Korea imports or exports from more than 100 nations. However, around 90 percent of Pyongyang’s trade is with Beijing and Trump has often said the Chinese should take more steps to rein in Kim’s nuclear ambitions.

Experts told NBC News that Trump’s suggestion would strip consumer goods from the shelves of American stores, jeopardize hundreds of thousands of U.S. jobs and spark a meltdown across the global economy.

Taylor Griffin, a former Treasury spokesman and White House staffer under President George W. Bush, warned that such a policy would result in a “very painful lesson in economics” for Americans.

He added: “There would be ripple effects everywhere. People talk about a butterfly flapping its wings and causing a tornado on the other side of the world. This wouldn’t be a butterfly — it would be a 747 taking off.”

Kim has been very open about his regime’s ambitions. North Korea regularly issues apocalyptic warnings to the U.S. and its allies.

Last month, the regime’s official Rodong Sinmun newspaper said the U.S. would be “catapulted into an unimaginable sea of fire” if it imposed more sanctions or threatened military action. In May, the paper said the North was “waiting for the moment it will reduce the whole of the U.S. mainland to ruins” after Trump dispatched a naval strike group to the region.

Such threats have been a staple of Kim’s regime since he took power after his father’s death in 2011.

In October, top North Korean official Lee Yong Pil told NBC News that “a preemptive nuclear strike is not something the U.S. has a monopoly on.” He added: “If we see that the U.S. would do it to us, we would do it first.”