North Korea feels global pressure but not completely ostracized

2016-02-11 10:01:06

SEOUL From building statues and training police in Africa to trading with India and Thailand, North Korea is managing to maintain business ties and friendly diplomatic relations with a dwindling number of Cold War-era friends.That is despite being cut off from much of the world for conducting a decade of banned rocket and nuclear tests, including the launch of a rocket last weekend that North Korea says put a satellite into space. The United States and its allies saw the launch as a missile test.Indeed, Pyongyang has been squeezed by layers of U.N. sanctions since 2006 targeting its once-lucrative arms trade and the flow of money that financed its weapons program. China, North Korea's most important ally, as well as Russia have signed up to U.N. Security Council sanctions over the missile and nuclear tests.Votes in the U.N. General Assembly over the past decade censuring Pyongyang on human rights also show ebbing global support. Thailand, which had abstained from voting on six resolutions against North Korea has since 2011 voted in favor of the three on which votes were recorded.Botswana severed diplomatic ties with North Korea in 2014, linking its decision to a U.N. report on crimes against humanity in North Korea, while Indonesia switched in 2010 from voting against North Korea human rights resolutions to abstaining, according to U.N. records.Still, the country has enjoyed consistent backing in U.N. General Assembly votes on human rights from a core group including Belarus, Cuba, Egypt, Iran, Syria, Vietnam, Zimbabwe and Venezuela, which is currently part of the 15-member Security Council, as well as from China and Russia.Much of North Korea's support is from fellow members of the Cold War-era Non-Aligned Movement, with which it trades in goods and services. Besides China, which accounts for 90 percent of its trade, North Korea's biggest trading partners in recent years include Russia, India and Thailand, according to South Korean government data through to 2014. It has imported Indian dyes and paints, Russian mineral oil and Thai rubber, and sold electronic components to India and clothes to Russia. India exported precious metals and stones worth nearly $2 million to North Korea in 2014, up from $103,000 in 2013, said a report by the U.N. Security Council's Panel of Experts on North Korea, which monitors implementation of sanctions.The report, seen by Reuters on Tuesday, said India told it the exports did not violate a ban on luxury goods entering North Korea.  STATUES AND SMUGGLINGWhen North Korea set out to forge diplomatic ties in newly independent African countries, founding leader Kim Il Sung provided financial and military support. It has also sent artists and construction engineers to Africa to build public artworks to earn revenue. A $27 million North Korea-built bronze statue called the Monument of African Renaissance that opened in 2010 in Senegal stands taller than the Statue of Liberty."In the 1950s and 1960s, North Korea made much more progress on the diplomatic front than South Korea," said Yoon Hae-joong, South Korea's ambassador to Indonesia between 2003 and 2005, describing North Korea's diplomatic relationships as mostly about form and symbolism, not substance. Last year, a report by the U.N. expert panel noted police cooperation between North Korea and Uganda, with the North Koreans providing training on the use of AK-47s and pistols.The latest report said training was continuing as of December.Uganda has abstained from voting on all nine U.N. General Assembly resolutions on North Korean human rights for which votes were counted since 2005, a record mirrored by countries including India, Ethiopia, Nigeria, Mali and Qatar.Hong Soon-kyung, a North Korean defector, said that when he worked as a counselor at Pyongyang's embassy in Bangkok during the 1990s, he imported Thai rice for his famine-stricken homeland and did business for a North Korean biometric firm, which he said was funded by a Singaporean businessman."North Korea opened up a state fingerprint firm's branch to make money out of fingerprint keys," said Hong, who also served in Pakistan, where he says he sold expensive duty-free liquor to local merchants, before defecting to the South in 2000.North Korea has 53 embassies and overseas missions, according to South Korean government data, some of which have been notorious for engaging in business, including illicit activities. Last year, Bangladesh expelled a North Korean diplomat caught smuggling $1.4 million worth of gold. (Additional reporting by James Pearson and Jee Heun Kahng in Seoul and Louis Charbonneau at the United Nations; Editing by Tony Munroe and Dean Yates)

Baby dies in Los Angeles shooting after bullet pierces wall

2016-02-10 17:01:06

LOS ANGELES A one-year-old girl was killed on Tuesday when a bullet from an apparent gang-related shooting pierced the wall of her Los Angeles home and struck her in the head, law enforcement officers said.The toddler was in her crib when a gunman opened fire on a converted garage in Compton, south of downtown Los Angeles, the County Sheriff's Department said. The gunman and the driver of a getaway car were being sought, officials said. The shooting appeared to be gang-related, a spokeswoman for the sheriff said. The area is one of the most violent in Los Angeles County, with 475 violent crimes, including eight homicides, in the past six months, data compiled by the Los Angeles Times shows. (Reporting by Victoria Cavaliere; editing by John Stonestreet)

Obama to propose $200 million to battle Islamic State in Africa

2016-02-09 20:01:05

WASHINGTON Feb 9 President Barack Obama is proposing about $200 million in new military spending to confront Islamic State in north and west Africa, U.S. defense officials said ahead of Tuesday's budget rollouts for the next fiscal year.U.S. officials declined to specify to which nations the funding would be directed. The disclosure comes as the United States and its allies discuss ways to halt the spread of the Sunni militant group in Libya and elsewhere in Africa from its self-declared caliphate in Syria and Iraq.The proposed increase in U.S. defense spending for north and west Africa is a component of a larger $7.5 billion Pentagon request for fiscal year 2017 to counter Islamic State."The marginal increase is on the order of about $200 million associated with north Africa," one U.S. defense official said, speaking on condition of anonymity to a small group of reporters.Another U.S. defense official told Reuters the funds would also be directed to west Africa. U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter last week announced his intention to ramp up spending to counter Islamic State as he unveiled the broad details of Obama's proposed $582.7 billion defense budget. Carter said he would seek further war funding later if needed.A key component of the $7.5 billion would go to munitions. Carter said the United States has used so many smart bombs and laser-guided rockets in Iraq and Syria that it is running low and needs to invest $1.8 billion for 45,000 more. The Air Force budget includes about 4,500 small diameter bombs, doubling the previous year's purchase. It also calls for more than 30,000 Boeing Co. Joint Direct Attack Munition tail kits, which turn unguided bombs into all-weather smart munitions using GPS guidance systems, compared to about 22,000 the previous year. The Navy is slated to buy 100 Hellfire missiles built by Lockheed Martin Corp, with the Air Force planning to buy around 280.The U.S. officials also said some of the $7.5 billion would go toward training and equipping Iraqi forces and fighters in Syria to counter Islamic State.Lieutenant General Vincent Stewart, director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, warned on Monday of the group's expansion to Libya, Egypt's Sinai Peninsula, Nigeria, Algeria and elsewhere. The United States has a limited permanent military presence in Africa, largely centered on a U.S. base in Djibouti.Islamic State forces have attacked Libya's oil infrastructure and taken control of the city of Sirte, exploiting a power vacuum in which two rival governments have been battling for supremacy.The Pentagon has said that planning is underway to confront the group in Libya, although significant political hurdles could slow any new campaign by the U.S. and its allies there.Carter will meet with allies in Brussels this week to discuss ways to accelerate the campaign against Islamic State. (Additional reporting by Yeganeh Torbati and Andrea Shalal; Editing by Warren Strobel and Stuart Grudgings)

Woman pulled alive from rubble two days after Taiwan quake

2016-02-08 05:30:10

TAINAN, Taiwan A woman was pulled alive from the rubble of a collapsed building in the southern Taiwan city of Tainan on Monday and another man has been found alive trapped inside more than 48 hours after a deadly earthquake struck, officials said.The death toll from the quake rose to 35 earlier on Monday, with more than 100 people still missing.The quake struck at about 4 a.m. on Saturday (5.00 p.m. ET/2000 GMT Friday) at the beginning of the Lunar New Year holiday, with almost all the dead found in the toppled Wei-guan Golden Dragon Building in Tainan city.Rescue efforts are focused on the wreckage of the 17-storey building, where 117 people are listed as missing and are suspected to be buried deep under the rubble.Wang Ting-yu, a legislator who represents the area, told reporters the woman, Tsao Wei-ling, was found lying under her dead husband. Their 2-year-old son, who was also killed, was found lying nearby.Another person has also been located, a man called Li Tsung-tian, Wang said. The man is conscious and talking to rescuers. Tainan mayor William Lai said Tsao and Li were the only signs of life at present, although rescuers were continuing to look for others."We have not given up on even the tiniest of possibilities," he told reporters.Rescuers continued to scramble over the twisted wreckage of the building as numbed family members stood around, waiting for news of missing relatives.Lin Tong-meng said he had been waiting at the site for word of his 11- and 12-year-old nephews, who have yet to be found. "I came back and forth all yesterday and now I'm here again," Lin said. The boy's mother and father were rescued soon after the quake. Their father also stood nearby, pacing close to the rubble in tears.Taiwan's government said in a statement 33 of the 35 dead were from the Wei-guan building, which was built in 1994.President-elect Tsai Ing-wen, who won election last month, said during a visit to Tainan there needed to be a "general sorting out" for old buildings to make sure they were able to cope with disasters like earthquakes. "There needs to be a continued strengthening of their ability to deal with disasters," she said.Outgoing president Ma Ying-jeou is also scheduled to visit. Chinese President Xi Jinping conveyed condolences to the victims, state news agency Xinhua reported late on Sunday, and repeated Beijing's offer to provide help.China views self-ruled Taiwan as a wayward province, to be bought under its control by force if necessary. (Reporting by J.R. Wu; Additional reporting by Megha Rajagopalan in BEIJING; Writing by Ben Blanchard; Editing by Paul Tait)

Rubio, Christie and Kasich get more debate traction on social media

2016-02-07 07:31:07

NEW YORK Donald Trump lost his social media dominance for the first time during the Republican presidential debates as the candidates made their eighth showing Saturday night in New Hampshire.Instead, many on Twitter took to mocking contender Senator Marco Rubio, who came under heavy attack on Saturday from rivals. New Jersey Governor Chris Christie also saw a big bump in his share of the social conversation.By the end of the night, Trump, who has the most followers, still received the largest share of mentions on Twitter Inc (TWTR.N), with 33 percent compared to Rubio's 20 percent. Ted Cruz, a U.S. senator from Texas, came in third, with 15 percent. But Twitter said an hour into the debate that Rubio was the most tweeted about candidate on the social media platform, marking the first time a candidate other than Trump came out on top within that time frame. Overall, Rubio received 10 more mentions per minute on Twitter than he did during the last Republican debate on Jan. 28, according to social media analytics firm Zoomph. Three days before New Hampshire's primary for the Nov. 8 election, many of the mentions were negative as Rubio became a target for continuing to repeat many of the same lines from his campaign stump speech."Marco, the thing is this," said rival Chris Christie, the governor of New Jersey, "when you're president of the United States, when you're a governor of a state, the memorized 30-second speech where you talk about how great America is at the end of it doesn't solve one problem for one person."That moment was measured by Twitter as one of the top social moments of the night. Actress Mia Farrow, @MiaFarrow, tweeted, "Rubio keeps saying the same thing."A Marco Rubio Glitch (@RubioGlitch) account also emerged, gaining nearly 1,200 followers as of Saturday night as it parodied Rubio as a robot in tweets in Spanish and English.Rubio also had his worst performance yet with millennials on the popular messaging app Yik Yak, where he had a 44 percent disapproval rating. In contrast, Ohio Governor John Kasich had his best performance with millennials, earning a 41.4 approval rating, and maintaining the largest share of the conversation on Yik Yak. The debate was also a big night on social media for Christie, who has rarely been a top contender in social mentions. According to Brandwatch, a social media analytics firm, he had the second highest percentage of positive social mentions, 61.5 percent, compared to Trump's 62.5 percent.Tyler Freeman (@tyfreem) tweeted, "#GOPDebate Chris Christie has been most underrated candidate the whole campaign. He finally stood out tonight. One of the best performances." (Reporting by Anjali Athavaley; Editing by Leela de Kretser and Mary Milliken)SAP is the sponsor of this content. It was independently created by Reuters' editorial staff and funded in part by SAP, which otherwise has no role in this coverage.

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