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Russia vetoes Western bid at UN to pressure Iran over Yemen

UNITED NATIONS, United States — Russia vetoed on Monday a UN draft resolution presented by Britain and strongly backed by the United States that would have pressured Iran over its failure to block supplies of missiles to Yemen’s Huthi rebels.

Britain had sought to include in the measure renewing sanctions on Yemen an expression of "particular concern" from the Security Council over a UN report that found Iran had violated the 2015 arms embargo on Yemen.

The report by a UN panel of experts in January concluded that Iran was in violation after determining that missiles fired by the Huthis at Saudi Arabia last year were made in Iran.

The text, which was backed by France, other European countries and Kuwait, won 11 favorable votes at the 15-member Security Council but was blocked by Russia’s veto.

China and Kazakhstan abstained, while Bolivia also voted against the measure.

Nine votes and no vetoes from the five permanent council members – Britain, France, China, Russia and the United States – are required to adopt resolutions at the Security Council.

After hours of negotiations in a bid to reach a compromise, Russia made clear it had strong reservations about the findings of the UN report and would not support a draft resolution that mentioned them.

"We cannot concur with uncorroborated conclusions and evidence which requires verification and discussions within the sanctions committee," Russian Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia told the council.

While the report found that Tehran had violated the embargo by failing to block the shipments, the experts said they were unable to identify the supplier.

Nebenzia warned that taking aim at Iran could have had "dangerous destabilising ramifications" in the Middle East by exacerbating tensions between Shiites and Sunnis.

After the veto, the council unanimously adopted a Russian-drafted measure that extended for one year the sanctions regime against Yemen, but that text made no mention of Iran.

US accuses Russia

Iran has repeatedly denied arming the Huthis in Yemen, despite claims by the United States and Saudi Arabia that the evidence of an arms connection is irrefutable.

US Ambassador Nikki Haley released a statement accusing Russia of shielding Iran and warned the United States would consider other ways to take action against Tehran.

"Today, Russia protected the terrorist-sponsoring regime in Iran," said Haley, who was traveling to Honduras.

"If Russia is going to use its veto to block action against Iran’s dangerous and destabilising conduct, then the United States and our partners will need to take actions against Iran that the Russians cannot block."

Haley has taken a hawkish stance on Iran, accusing Tehran of sowing instability in the Middle East and failing to live up to its commitments under the landmark 2015 nuclear deal.

Russia, which has traditionally friendly relations with Iran, is providing military support along with Tehran to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s forces.

Iran’s mission to the United Nations charged that the United States and Britain had pushed an "unwarranted draft resolution" to advance an anti-Iran political agenda.

Iran "categorically rejects allegations regarding arms transfer to Yemen," said a statement from the mission that described the draft resolution as an attempt to "distract" the world’s attention from the "catastrophic humanitarian situation" in Yemen.

A Saudi-led coalition supporting Yemen’s government has been fighting the Huthis since 2015 in a war that has led to what the United Nations describes as the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.

An alarming 17 million people in Yemen – 60 per cent of the total population – are in need of food aid, of whom seven million are on the brink of famine because of the conflict, according to the United Nations.  — AFP

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Five Women Killed In Dagestan Church Shooting Claimed By ISIS

MOSCOW — Five women were shot dead in an apparent radical Islamist attack on an Orthodox church in the North Caucasus region of Dagestan on Sunday, as the ISIS claimed responsibility for the assault.

An unidentified gunman fired at worshippers at the church in the town of Kizlyar in the mainly Muslim region, local press reports said.

The regional internal affairs ministry said in a statement that the assailant used a hunting rifle, and that four women were killed on the spot, while the attacker was "eliminated".

A fifth woman died of her injuries in hospital, health ministry spokeswoman Zalina Mourtazalieva told TASS news agency.

Two Russian police officers were injured in the attack.

According to a local official the assailant was a local man in his early twenties, the Interfax news agency reported.

The Russian RBK daily quoted an Orthodox priest saying the attacker had opened fire on churchgoers following an afternoon service.

"We had finished the mass and were beginning to leave the church. A bearded man ran towards the church shouting ’Allahu Akbar’ (’God is greatest’) and killed four people," Father Pavel told RBK.

"He was carrying a rifle and a knife," he added.

’Soldier of Islam’

The ISISl claimed responsibility for the attack.

"A soldier of Islam, Khalil Daghestani, attacked" a church in the town of Kizlyar in Dagestan," ISIS said via the Telegram messaging app.

"He targeted them with his gun, killing five of them and wounding four others," it added.

A spokesman for Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill strongly condemned the attack, branding it a "monstrous crime" aimed at "provoking a confrontation between Orthodox Christians and Muslims" in the North Caucasus.

Images published by the local press showed the body of a bearded man dressed in military fatigues who was identified as the assailant.

Next to his corpse lay two of his victims, covered in a white shroud.

Dagestan, bordering Chechnya, is one of the poorest and most unstable regions of Russia.

Islamist rebels from the region, which lies immediately east of Chechnya, are known to have travelled to Syria to join ISIS.

In 2015, ISIS declared it had established a "franchise" in the North Caucasus.

It has claimed a number of attacks on police in Dagestan in the last couple of years that have involved guns and explosives, as local security forces battle a simmering Islamist insurgency.

Sunday’s shooting comes exactly one month before the March 18 presidential election that Vladimir Putin is almost guaranteed to win. — AFP

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Tonga declares state of emergency as cyclone looms

NUKU’ALOFA — Tonga declared a state of emergency on Monday as a powerful cyclone bears down on the Pacific island nation after wreaking havoc in neighbouring Samoa.

Acting Prime Minister Semisi Sika issued the nationwide alert, saying he was "satisfied that an emergency is happening or is about to happen in the kingdom".

Severe Tropical Cyclone Gita is intensifying as it approaches and the Fiji Meteorological Service predicted it will become a maximum category five storm before reaching Tonga on Monday night.

It is already packing wind gusts of 220 kmh as it gathers strength some 370 kilometres east of Tonga’s most populous island Tongatapu.

Tonga’s Fua’amotu Weather Forecasting Centre warned residents could expect "very destructive hurricane force winds".

Gita slammed into Samoa overnight Friday, forcing the evacuation of some 200 people and causing widespread flooding, leaving many without power and electricity.

Tonga’s information ministry said evacuation centres were being prepared across the kingdom and advised residents to avoid unnecessary travel.

"Every family should have an emergency kit packed in their homes," it said.

"Everyone should be mindful of what might cause damage within their homes such as large trees that can potentially damage a house."

Cyclones are common in the Pacific at this time of year, with top-of-the-scale category five systems proving highly destructive when they make landfall.

Cyclone Winston killed 44 people in Fiji in 2016 and Cyclone Pam claimed 11 lives and damaged 65,000 homes in Vanuatu in 2015. — AFP

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British tourists dead in US Grand Canyon chopper crash

LONDON — Three British tourists have been killed in a US helicopter crash after the chopper went down in the Grand Canyon, Britain’s foreign ministry said late Sunday.

A further three British people and the pilot were injured when the accident happened at around 5:20 pm (0020 GMT) on Saturday.

"We are providing support to the families of six British visitors involved in a helicopter accident at the Grand Canyon on 10 February, and we are in close contact with the US emergency services," a spokeswoman for the foreign ministry said.

Local media reported the Eurocopter EC130 helicopter, whose operator was unknown, was travelling on a tour.

Francis Bradley, Hualapai Nation police chief, said the chopper went down in Grand Canyon West, located in northwestern Arizona.

"The investigation is ongoing," Bradley said on Saturday, adding that there was no information immediately available on the circumstances surrounding the tragedy.

Allen Kenitzer, of the Federal Aviation Authority’s Office of Communications said that the aircraft sustained "substantial damage."

The FAA and the National Transportation Safety Board will investigate the crash, he added. — AFP

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London City Airport closed after WWII bomb found

LONDON — London City Airport announced its closure on Sunday after a World War Two bomb was discovered in the nearby River Thames.

The ordnance was discovered in King George V Dock, close to the runway of London’s most central airport, during planned works.

"A 214m exclusion zone has been implemented as a precaution by the Met Police. As a result, London City Airport is currently closed," the airport said in a statement.

Travellers were told to avoid the airport: "All passengers due to travel from London City on Monday are advised to contact their airline for further information."

City Airport operates short-haul flights and is located in east London, close to the Canary Wharf business district.

The Metropolitan Police said the discovery was reported before dawn on Sunday, at around 0500 GMT, and the exclusion zone was put in place at 2200 GMT.

The decision was taken "to ensure that the ordnance can be safely dealt with whilst limiting any risk to the public," police said in a statement.

The unexploded ordnance is being dealt with by specialist police officers working alongside the Royal Navy.

Thousands of bombs were dropped on London during the "Blitz" by German Air Forces between September 1940 and May 1941. — AFP

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UN agrees sanctioned N.Korea official to attend Olympics

UNITED NATIONS The UN Security Council on Thursday gave permission for a North Korean official under international sanctions to travel to the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics along with Kim Jong Un’s sister, diplomats said.

South Korea presented on Wednesday a request to the council’s sanctions committee for an exemption to the travel ban imposed on Choe Hwi, chairman of North Korea’s National Sports Guidance Committee.

North Korea agreed in January to send a delegation to the Olympics and to hold talks with South Korea, easing tensions that have soared over Pyongyang’s nuclear and missile tests.

Choe was sanctioned in June last year as a senior director of the propaganda and agitation department of North Korea’s ruling Workers’ Party.

The committee granted the exemption to Choe after no council member raised objections to the request, a council diplomat said.

North Korea is under multiple sets of UN Security Council sanctions over its banned nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programmes, which have seen it develop rockets theoretically capable of reaching the US mainland.

The exemption will also be extended to all members of the delegation, meaning that a ban on luxury goods to North Korea will be temporarily lifted - a measure that would allow for gifts, for instance.

Kim Yo Jong, the younger sister of North Korea’s leader and a senior member of the Workers’ Party, will be part of the delegation due to arrive on Friday.

The 23-member delegation will be led by North Korea’s ceremonial head of state Kim Yong Nam and will also include Ri Son Gwon, who as head of the Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of the Country is responsible for inter-Korean affairs.

Aside from the four top officials, the delegation will comprise 16 support staff, South Korea told the sanctions committee.

UN diplomats said the approval was expected as council members support the sports détente between North and South Korea.

In a letter to the committee, South Korea said the visit "will serve as a timely opportunity to reduce tensions on the Korean peninsula and beyond by promoting an environment conducive to a peaceful, diplomatic, and political solution concerning the situation on the peninsula".

A total of 78 individuals and 54 entities are currently on the UN sanctions blacklist, hit with a global travel ban and assets freeze. AFP

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Top North Korean official to visit South for Winter Olympics

SEOUL — North Korea’s ceremonial head of state will visit the South this week and attend the Winter Olympics opening ceremony as the divided peninsula witnesses a rare thaw after a year of high tensions over Pyongyang’s nuclear programme.

Kim Yong-Nam will be the most senior official from the North for years to travel to the other side of the Demilitarised Zone that has divided the two Koreas for decades.

His trip will be the diplomatic high point of the rapprochement between the two Koreas triggered by the Pyeongchang Olympics in the South, which have their opening ceremony on Friday.

Tensions spiralled last year as the North carried out multiple weapons tests, including intercontinental ballistic missiles it says are capable of reaching the mainland United States, and its most powerful nuclear blast to date.

For months Pyongyang ignored Seoul’s entreaties to take part in a "peace Olympics", until leader Kim Jong-Un indicated his willingness to do so in his New Year speech.

That set off a rapid series of meetings which saw the two agree to march together at the opening ceremony and form a unified women’s ice hockey team, their first for 27 years.

The North’s Olympic participation would include a visit by a high-level delegation, they agreed.

It will be led by Kim Yong-Nam, who is leader of the Presidium of the Supreme People’s Assembly, the North’s ruling party-controlled parliament, Seoul’s unification ministry said in a statement late on Sunday.

The North’s state-run news agency KCNA said the high-level delegation led by Kim Yong-Nam would "soon visit south Korea to attend the opening ceremony of the 23rd Winter Olympics".

Kim - who is not a close blood relative of leader Kim Jong-Un – will arrive on Friday for a three-day visit, accompanied by three other officials and 18 support staff, the ministry said it had been told by Pyongyang. — AFP

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Haiti urbanisation rises but not wealth: World Bank

PORT-AU-PRINCE — Urbanisation is on the rise in Haiti, the third most urbanised country in Latin America and the Caribbean, but economic growth is still lagging behind, the World Bank said on Tuesday, warning of the increased threat of natural disasters on cities growing unabated.

More than six million people, or 64 per cent of the population, now live in cities in the poorest country in the Americas, compared to just a third of residents in 1996, the global financial institution said in a report.

But, unlike the global trend, economic growth has not accompanied urbanisation in Haiti. GDP per capita dropped from US$757 in 1996 to $727 in 2013.

"There’s been a process of very rapid urbanisation, at an average pace of five percent per year, that has not been coupled with adequate infrastructure investments to handle this urban growth," World Bank’s Director for Social, Urban and Resilience Global Practice Sameh Wahba said.

Basic services are also severely lacking. Coupled with the lack of infrastructure, this undermines productivity and livability, the report noted.

Poor funding means more than a third of urban residents lack access to clean drinking water, while two thirds lack improved sanitation. An estimated eight percent defecate openly.

And most urban residents struggle more than their rural counterparts to find jobs.

"Rather than benefitting from high densities, cities in Haiti today are overcrowded places with wide gaps in infrastructure and services," the report said.

"Resilient urban growth is hindered by these gaps and by increased exposure to natural disasters, and by ineffective land use planning."

The dysfunction and cost of the transportation system means that about three quarters of urban dwellers do not take motorized transport on a daily basis, opting either not to travel or to walk everywhere.

"Improvements in the connectivity system are required to increase resilience and promote economic growth and job creation," the report says.

Wahba noted that in the capital Port-au-Prince, pedestrians have access to an average of just 12 percent of jobs in the city, which "reduces their chances of increasing income."

And the urban growth also makes the country more vulnerable to natural disasters.

Eight years after a devastating earthquake killed more than 200,000 people and caused damage worth an estimated 117 per cent of GDP, chaotic construction is still pervasive, despite a construction code.

Almost all of Haiti’s land area is considered "medium" or "high" earthquake risk, and the World Bank estimates 58 per cent of built-up areas face a risk of flooding.

The World Bank recommended serious investment in basic services to provide "resilient" urban planning and better prepare for urban growth. It also called for improved transportation and better municipal financing.— AFP

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Thousands stranded, scores injured in snowbound Tokyo

Viet Nam News

TOKYO — A rare heavy blanket of snow in Tokyo on Tuesday left thousands of travellers stranded and scores injured, as frozen conditions snarled public transport in the Japanese capital.

Japan’s weather agency recorded as much as 23 centimetres (9.2 inches) of snow in some parts of Tokyo, the biggest snowfall since February 2014.

The weather paralysed Monday evening’s commute as millions of workers battled to get home in one of the world’s most populous cities.

Notoriously hard-working Japanese employees were urged to knock off early but this did not prevent delays and crushes at major stations.

Public broadcaster NHK said at least 180 people had sustained minor injuries on the frozen streets and there had been around 700 traffic accidents, police said.

Cars became trapped in a tunnel, sparking a 10-kilometre-long tailback from Monday evening through early Tuesday morning, broadcasters said.

And for the second day running, dozens of domestic and international flights departing from and arriving at the Japanese capital were scrapped due to the snow, with more than 9,000 people stranded overnight at Narita airport, officials said.

Airport officials and airline staff handed out water, snacks and sleeping bags to the unlucky passengers.

"I had planned to visit the US after graduating from university but my flight was cancelled. Why today?" an exasperated female student told NHK.

Heavy snowfall is common in northern areas of Japan but rare in the capital, which last saw this amount of snow in 2014.

The sun was shining brightly on Tuesday morning, but forecasters predict the mercury will stay well below zero this week, causing treacherous roads, and warned of more injuries.

The greater Tokyo area will see lows of minus six degrees Celsius (21.2 degree Fahrenheit) on Wednesday, the weather agency said.

"It’s rare to have sub-zero temperatures for a few days in the Tokyo area, and that would freeze the snow," agency official Kenji Okada said.

"In the past, we have seen a lot of injuries caused by slipping and falling. Simply walking can be dangerous," he said. — AFP

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Nine dead as huge storms batter Europe

Viet Nam News

BERLIN Nine people including two firefighters were killed Thursday as violent gales battered northern Europe, snapping air and train links.

Germany halted all long-distance rail traffic for at least a day, while numerous domestic flights were scrapped as hurricane-force winds lashed the country.

The storm claimed six lives in Germany, including two firefighters deployed in emergency operations and two truck drivers whose vehicles were blown over by the gales.

Another driver died when he lost control of his vehicle and crashed in to a truck.

A 59-year-old camper was killed instantly when a tree fell on him in North Rhine-Westphalia state, German police said, as wind speeds reached a high of 203 kilometres an hour (126 mph) at the Brocken -- the highest peak of northern Germany.

The storm, named Friederike, also ripped the roof off a school in the eastern state of Thueringia while children were still in the building.

Authorities said no one was hurt there.

In the Bavarian alps, the strong gales forced the cancellation of a ski world championship qualifier at Oberstdorf.

It is the worst storm to strike Germany since 2007, according to the German weather service.

Passengers stuck at rail stations were given a voucher for a hotel room, German rail service Deutsche Bahn spokesman Achim Strauss said. “We must have protect our passengers and our staff,” he added, without saying when the rail service would return to normal.

In the Netherlands, which had borne the brunt of the severe winter storms earlier Thursday, two people were crushed by falling trees as bitter winds barrelled off the North Sea to hit the low-lying country with full force.

As the national weather service raised its warning to the highest code red level, a 62-year-old man was killed in the central Dutch town of Olst by a falling branch when he got out of his truck to remove debris blocking the road.

A second Dutchman, also 62, was killed in eastern Enschede when a tree toppled onto his car, the Dutch news agency ANP said.

In neighbouring Belgium, a woman driver reportedly died when her car was crushed by a tree as she was travelling through a wood in the Grez-Doiceau area, about 35 kilometres south of Brussels.

Amsterdam’s Schiphol airport, one of the continent’s busiest travel hubs, was forced to briefly cancel all flights as winds gusted up to 140 kilometres an hour in some areas.

Flights later resumed but all passengers were being advised to check their flight status, the airport said in a tweet, adding “up until now, 320 flights have been cancelled”.

The airport also had to close the entrances to two of its three departure halls when some roof tiles were whipped off the terminal building.

Storm carpool

The traffic chaos also plagued the roads, with the Dutch national traffic office reporting 66 trucks had been toppled over by the high winds causing huge traffic jams on the motorways, the highest recorded number since 1990.

The Dutch NS national train service said meanwhile that only a few trains would be put into service late Thursday, and warned of further disruption on

Friday as many overhead lines had been brought down by the high winds. The hashtag #StormPoolen (or storm carpool) began trending with people searching rides between cities, and some drivers offering spare seats in their cars.

“My lovely boyfriend is trying to get from Leiden Central to Delft. He’s very nice and there’s a bottle of wine in it for whoever can return him unharmed. #StormPoolen,” wrote one Twitter user Molly Quell.

Puk van de Lagemaat promised “mad Dj-ing and Karaoke skills to accompany you in the traficjam (sic)” if anyone could give her a ride from Amsterdam central station to The Hague.

Thalys, the high-speed train operator, said suspended services to the Netherlands and Belgium would resume on Friday while services to Germany would depend on when the Aachen Cologne line reopens.

Avalanche risk

Germany’s rail service said stranded passengers will receive a hotel voucher or will have the option of spending a night in a train at the station.

Traffic is expected to resume only very gradually, said a German rail spokesman.

Dutch insurers warned that the bill for Thursday’s storm damage could top 10 million euros ($12.25 million).

Four people were injured in Antwerp, including one woman who was seriously hurt after being hit in the head by flying metal debris, the Belgian news agency Belga said.

Elsewhere in Europe, Tyrol state in western Austria said part of the Westbahn train line linking Vienna, Linz and Salzburg was closed on Thursday morning because of avalanche risk, national railways company OeBB said.

“We don’t want to take any risks,” OeBB spokesman Christoph Gasser-Mair said. AFP

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Two dead in Peru after 7.3-magnitude quake

Viet Nam News

LIMA — A 7.3 magnitude earthquake shook southern Peru on Sunday, killing at least two people and injuring 65, the South American country’s civil defense agency said.

Homes made of adobe collapsed in coastal areas most directly affected by the quake, local authorities said.

The earthquake struck in the Pacific, 31 kilometers (19 miles) from the seaside town of Acari in the region of Arequipa, according to the US Geological Survey.

"There are two fatalities in the region of Arequipa and so far 65 injured have been reported," said General Jorge Chavez, head of the National Civil Defense Institute.

Chavez said military planes were delivering humanitarian aid including tents to affected areas.

An emergency will be declared in most of the stricken areas so that reconstruction of homes and roads can begin immediately, said Mercedes Araoz, president of the Council of Ministers.

One person died in the Yauca district and another in the Bella Union district, both in the Arequipa region, where rescue workers were trying to help those affected, Peru’s Civil Defense said.

Peruvian President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski traveled to the region and flew over the quake zone. Speaking to reporters, he attributed the two deaths to adobe houses collapsing.

About 47 percent of homes in Peru, or 3.6 million, are made of clay, earth, stone or wood materials that are vulnerable in earthquakes, according to government statistics from 2014.

The Peruvian navy and the Pacific Tsunami Warning Centre in Hawaii ruled out the threat of a tsunami.

Adobe houses were leveled in the coastal town of Lomas and elsewhere in the surrounding area, Santiago Neyra, the mayor of the nearby town of Caraveli said.

Electricity was out in several municipalities and many roads were closed or passable in only one direction, the mayor said.

Structural damage was reported to a bridge in Arequipa, said the head of the region’s highway police, Major Alberto Rojas.

In the city of Arequipa, residents ran into the streets after the quake struck at 4:18am.

It was even felt in the capital Lima, hundreds of kilometres away.

"Here at the clinic the tremor felt super long," a patient in a Lima private hospital said.

The earthquake rocked Peru just before Pope Francis is slated to arrive Thursday for a three-day visit after touring Chile.

Peru lies on the so-called "Ring of Fire" -- an arc of fault lines that circles the Pacific Basin and is prone to frequent earthquakes and volcanic eruptions.

The South American country records about 200 earthquakes a year, most of them going unnoticed by the public.

The last major earthquake to shake Peru hit in August 2007, killing 595 people.

A 6.3-magnitude quake was felt in southern Peru on the border with Chile last October, leaving four people with slight injuries.  AFP

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Koreas start first official talks in two years

Viet Nam News

SEOUL — North and South Korea began their first official talks in more than two years on Tuesday, focussing on the forthcoming Winter Olympics after months of tensions over Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons programme.

The talks in Panmunjom, the truce village in the Demilitarised Zone that divides the peninsula, came after the North’s leader Kim Jong-Un indicated in his New Year’s speech that he could send a delegation to next month’s Games in Pyeongchang in the South.

Seoul responded with an offer of a high-level dialogue, and last week the hotline between the neighbours was restored after being suspended for almost two years.

Seoul’s five-member delegation, led by unification minister Cho Myoung-gyon, travelled to Panmunjom in a convoy of vehicles, passing a group of well-wishers holding a banner at a checkpoint leading towards the DMZ.

The North’s group, of similar size and led by senior official Ri Son-gwon, walked over the Military Demarcation Line at Panmunjom for the talks, pictures showed -- just yards from where a defector ran across in a hail of bullets two months ago.

Looking businesslike, Cho and Ri shook hands at the entrance to the Peace House, the building on the southern side where the discussions were being held, and again across the table.

In accordance with standard practice in the North, Ri wore a badge on his left lapel bearing an image of the country’s founding father Kim Il-sung and his son and successor Kim Jong-Il. Cho also wore a lapel badge, depicting the South Korean flag.

"Let’s present the people with a precious new year’s gift," said the North’s Ri. "There is a saying that a journey taken by two lasts longer than the one travelled alone."

Cho told him that Seoul believed the Pyeongchang Games "will become a peace Olympics as most valuable guests from the North are going to join many others from all around the world".

"The people have a strong desire to see the North and South move toward peace and reconciliation," he added.

‘Peace Olympics’

It was a radically different tone from the rhetoric of recent months, which have seen Kim and US President Donald Trump trade personal insults and bellicose threats of war, while Pyongyang has launched missiles capable of reaching the US mainland and carried out its sixth and most powerful nuclear test to date.

Seoul has been keen to proclaim the Games in Pyeongchang, just 80 kilometres south of the DMZ, as a "peace Olympics" in the wake of missile and nuclear tests by the North -- but it needs Pyongyang to attend to make the description meaningful.

If the North agrees, one of the top agenda items will be whether the two Koreas’ sportspeople make joint entrances to the opening and closing ceremonies, as they did for Sydney 2000, Athens 2004 and the 2006 Winter Games in Turin.

The size and membership of the North Korean delegation and their accommodation -- widely expected to be paid for by Seoul -- will also be discussed.

The group may stay on a cruise ship in Sokcho, about an hour’s drive from the Olympic venue, which would enable their movements to be closely monitored and controlled.

With only two winter sports athletes qualified, North Korea is likely to bolster its presence by sending significant numbers of cheerleaders to the Pyeongchang Games, which run from February 9 to 25, analysts say.

Hundreds of young, female North Korean cheerleaders have created a buzz at three previous international sporting events in the South.

"For North Korea to achieve its desired effects and to attract attention, it will have to dispatch its beauty cheering squad," said An Chan-il, a defector-turned-researcher who heads the World Institute for North Korea Studies.

South Korean reports have suggested the North could send a high-level delegation to the Games including Kim’s younger sister Yo-jong, who is a senior member of the ruling Workers’ Party. — AFP

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Macron begins China state visit at Silk Road gateway

French President Emmanuel Macron and his wife Brigitte visit the famous terracotta warriors in Xian at the start of his first state visit to China. — AFP Photo
Viet Nam News

XIAN — French President Emmanuel Macron on Monday launched a state visit to China in Xian -- the starting point of the ancient Silk Road -- in a nod to his counterpart’s scheme to revive the famous trading route.

Macron will visit the northern city’s famous terracotta warriors along with his wife Brigitte before delivering a keynote speech on the future of Franco-Chinese relations.

The 8,000-man clay army, crafted around 250 BC for the tomb of China’s first emperor Qin Shihuang, is a symbol of ancient Chinese artistic and military sophistication in a country that proclaims itself a 5,000-year-old civilisation.

Macron is beginning the three-day visit in Xian as a gesture to Chinese President Xi Jinping’s colossal New Silk Road project, an ambitious initiative to connect Asia and Europe by road, rail and sea.

The $1 trillion infrastructure programme is billed as a modern revival of the ancient Silk Road that once carried fabric, spices, and a wealth of other goods in both directions.

Known in China as "One Belt One Road", the plan is to see gleaming new road and rail networks built through Central Asia and beyond, and new maritime routes stretching through the Indian Ocean and Red Sea.

The project has elicited both interest and anxiety and France has so far been cautious on it. Observers say China is waiting for Macron to outline his views on the scheme, in his emerging role as a European leadership voice.

Macron’s first official visit to Asia marks a new stage for his diplomacy, which has so far been concentrated on Europe and Africa.

He plans to seek a "strategic partnership" with Beijing on issues including terrorism and climate change, and make Xi an ally in implementing the Paris accord to fight climate change after the US pulled out of the deal.

After Xian, Macron will travel on to Beijing along with his delegation which takes in some 60 business executives and institutions. — AFP

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Erdogan seeks reset with Europe on Paris visit

Viet Nam News

PARIS — Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan travels to Paris on Friday for talks with France’s Emmanuel Macron aimed at improving relations with Europe, after a war of words in 2017.

The lunch and talks at the Elysee Palace are expected to take in Syria and EU-Turkey relations, but Macron is also expected to voice concern over Erdogan’s post-coup purges.

The visit to France will be Erdogan’s first since the botched July 2015 putsch and one of only a handful to Europe since the attempted army takeover.

In an interview with France’s LCI television on Thursday, he said he had got off to a "very good start" with France’s new leader.

But in an interview with Le Point magazine in August, Macron listed "having to talk to Erdogan every 10 days" as one of the drawbacks of the job.

The invitation to the Turkish strongman, who has presided over the arrest of tens of thousands of officials, academics, journalists and activists, has drawn criticism on the French left.

The French presidency has insisted on the need to "maintain dialogue" with Ankara without "covering up differences of views."

Macron and Erdogan already met at a NATO summit in Brussels and at the UN General Assembly in New York in September, and held telephone talks leading to the release of two French journalists held in Turkey.

Macron has said he will also bring up the plight of jailed Turkish reporters during Friday’s talks.

Amnesty International, whose Turkey head Taner Kilic has been jailed, said Macron should "strongly remind (Erdogan) that human rights defenders are not terrorists."

High on the agenda will also be Turkey’s relations with the EU, which Ankara has sought to join for the last 50 years in an epic membership saga that appeared to hit the buffers amid bitter rows in 2017.

The purges carried out by Turkey in the wake of the coup bid have dealt the biggest blow yet to its ambition of joining the European Union.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel has been particularly condemnatory of the crackdown.

But Macron has stressed the need to avoid a breakdown in communications with a country he calls an "essential partner" on conflicts, including Syria, where France is seeking to play a greater role. — AFP

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’Bomb cyclone’ pounds eastern US, four reported dead

Viet Nam News

NEW YORK — A giant winter "bomb cyclone" walloped the US East Coast on Thursday with heavy snow and freezing cold that made for treacherous travel conditions and bone-chilling misery.

Four people were reported killed in the southeastern states of North and South Carolina, where icy roads sent vehicles skittering.

A cold wave gripping a large section of the United States had already been blamed for a dozen earlier deaths.

Thousands of flights were cancelled and schools closed in many localities as snow piled up and blizzard conditions began taking hold in the northeast.

Temperatures were so low in northern New York that Niagara Falls -- the giant waterfalls straddling the US-Canadian border -- froze.

Snowfall eased by nightfall but temperatures were set to plunge to 8 Fahrenheit (minus 13 Celsius) and remain sub-freezing all weekend.


Weather forecasters dubbed the event a "bomb cyclone", their nickname for a phenomenon known as "bombogenesis," in which a weather system experiences a sharp drop in atmospheric pressure and intensifies rapidly, unleashing hurricane-force winds.

Americans along the East Coast faced potential power outages in bitterly cold sub-freezing temperatures. About 30,000 customers in Virginia and North Carolina were deprived of electricity according to CNN.

Some 3,000 customers were hit in New York and about 10,000 in Boston, although service was partly restored at the end of the day.

In coastal Boston, the storm was accompanied by giant waves that led to what Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker described as "historic flooding" that inundated the city’s eastern streets as well as coastal areas of the state.

New York mobilized additional resources by declaring a state of emergency, while a Singapore Airlines A380 was forced to land at the Stewart Airport upstate after being diverted from the city’s main JFK International.

The National Guard deployed about 500 personnel along the coast, according to a statement.

"Currently, the main focus is assisting with transportation support and vehicles," the statement said.

The southeast was the first to feel the storm’s icy lash, when Florida on Wednesday saw its first snow in nearly three decades.

North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper lamented the deaths of three people in his state, including two killed when their pickup truck slid off a bridge and landed on its roof in a creek bed.

Roads were closed in northern Florida and southeastern Georgia, where Governor Nathan Deal declared a state of emergency in coastal areas.

 ’Very dangerous’ 

With up to a foot (30.5 centimetres) of snow expected in parts of New York, accompanied by powerful wind gusts, schools were closed. More than a foot of the white stuff was expected in Boston.

Governor Andrew Cuomo warned: "Frigid temperatures are expected overnight, which should further complicate the situation" adding there had been a number of serious accidents.

Wind gusts of up to 88.5 kilometres per hour were expected through Friday on Long Island and southeastern Connecticut, with wind chills as low as - 20 F (- 29 C), increasing the risk of frostbite and hypothermia from prolonged exposure.

The National Weather Service warned of "multiple hazards: moderate to heavy snow, low visibility, strong to damaging winds, coastal flooding, and hazardous seas," from the developing storm moving northward towards New England.

"Anticipate travel and economic impacts today and tonight with accumulating snow and white-out conditions. Expect downed trees and power lines resulting in scattered to widespread outages."

 Travel disruptions

Airlines have scrapped more than 4,200 flights into and out of the United States so far due to the storm, and delayed 2,200 others, according to flight tracker FlightAware.

Nearly 75 percent of flights departing Boston and New Jersey’s Newark airports were cancelled, though only about a quarter of flights to and from New York’s main airport were scrapped.

Air France cancelled all flights Thursday and Friday from Paris to New York and Boston.

Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe declared a state of emergency.

"Virginians living in the impacted areas should stay off the roadways to allow local and state road crews and first responders to do their jobs safely and efficiently," he said.

"With continued frigid temperatures expected to last for several more days, road conditions will remain treacherous beyond the expected end of the snowfall today," he added.

National rail line Amtrak cancelled service between Washington, D.C., and Newport News, on the Virginia coast. — AFP

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