Articles by "World News"

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un meets with his military officers. (file photo)
The United States has asked North Korea “to refrain from provocative” actions amid rising tensions between the two countries.
"We call on [North Korea] to refrain from provocative, destabilizing actions and rhetoric, and to make the strategic choice to fulfill its international obligations and commitments and return to serious talks," US Navy Commander Gary Ross, a Pentagon spokesman, said on Monday.
"North Korea's unlawful weapons programs represent a clear, grave threat to US national security,” he added.
The statement came a day after North Korea threatened to sink an American aircraft carrier that President Donald Trump is sending to the western Pacific Ocean.
"Our revolutionary forces are combat-ready to sink a US nuclear powered aircraft carrier with a single strike," North Korea's ruling Workers' Party newspaper said in a commentary on Sunday.
The article said Pyongyang had weaponry that “can reach continental US and Asia Pacific region.”
The USS Carl Vinson is currently conducting exercises with two Japanese destroyers in the Philippines Sea.
Last week, President Trump called on China to rein in North Korea.
"China is very much the economic lifeline to North Korea so, while nothing is easy, if they want to solve the North Korean problem, they will," he tweeted.
Trump discusses North Korea with Xi, Abe
US President Donald Trump
On Sunday, Trump spoke on the phone with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe as well as Chinese President Xi Jinping to discuss the North Korean issue.
After the phone call with Trump, Abe told reporters Monday that he and Trump had agreed to keep close contact on North Korea. He appreciated Trump’s stance of keeping “all options on the table” regarding Pyongyang.
The Trump administration has several times warned that all options, including a military strike, were being considered to halt Pyongyang’s missile and nuclear activities.
"The North Korean nuclear and missile problem is an extremely serious security threat to not only the international community but also our country," Abe told reporters.
Xi, the Chinese president, told his American counterpart during the telephone call that all sides had to exercise restraint.
China has opposed any move that runs counter to the UN Security Council resolutions already in place against North Korea.
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe (left) and Chinese President Xi Jinping
Tensions have increased between North Korea and the US in recent weeks. The US has been unnerved by North Korea’s advancing missile and nuclear programs and has dispatched a military strike group to the Korean Peninsula. Pyongyang has said it is ready for war.
The prospects of a potential military confrontation have made regional countries worried.
North Korea has threatened the US with “all-out war” and announced that Pyongyang would continue to test missiles on a weekly basis.
Pyongyang says its missile and nuclear programs act as deterrence against a potential invasion by its adversaries, particularly the US.
The US has military forces in South Korea on a permanent basis, and routinely threatens the North with military action.

A file photo shows two Saudi women.
A human rights watchdog group has lashed out at the United Nations for appointment of Saudi Arabia as a member of a committee on gender equality, despite Riyadh’s massive discrimination against women.
“Saudi discrimination against women is gross and systematic in law and in practice,” said the executive director of the human rights group UN Watch, Hillel Neuer, in a Sunday statement.
“Why did the UN choose the world’s leading promoter of gender inequality to sit on its gender equality commission,” he said in a statement. “Electing Saudi Arabia to protect women’s rights is like making an arsonist into the town fire chief,” he later tweeted.
On Wednesday, the UN’s Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) elected 13 members, including Saudi Arabia, to four-year terms on the Commission on the Status of Women, which is exclusively dedicated to the promotion of gender equality and the empowerment of women.
Saudi women attend a Festival in Rumah, some 150 kilometres east of Riyadh, on March 29, 2017 (Photo by AFP). 
Out of 144 on the Global Gender Gap Index, Saudi Arabia was ranked 141 in 2016.
In recent years, the Al Saud regime has come under intense pressure by rights groups for mistreating women.
Saudi Arabia is the only country in the world that prohibits women from driving. The ban stems from a religious fatwa imposed by Wahhabi clerics. If women get behind the wheel in the kingdom, they may be arrested, sent to court and even flogged.
Under Saudi law, a woman must have permission from a male family member, normally the father, husband or brother -- in the case of a widow, sometimes her son -- to obtain a passport, marry, travel, exit prison and sometimes work or access health care.
In January, a UN Special Rapporteur on human rights, Philip Alston, slammed Saudi Arabia’s treatment of women, saying, “The driving ban should be lifted, and women should no longer need authorization from male guardians to work or travel.”

French presidential election candidate for the En Marche! movement Emmanuel Macron gestures at the audience during a meeting at the Parc des Expositions in Paris, after the first round of the presidential election, April 23, 2017. (Photo by AFP)
French centrist presidential candidate Emanuel Macron has underlined his determination to turn a page in French political history, as he and far-right Marine Le Pen go to the run-off presidential vote.
According to final voting figures released by the Interior Ministry on Monday, Macron, a pro-EU ex-banker and former economy minister, won 23.75 percent of the votes against 21.53 percent for Le Pen.
According to new surveys, Macron is expected to win the runoff by 64 percent to 36.
In a victory speech for his supporters in Paris on Sunday, Macron called on all patriots to rally behind him in the battle against what he called the threat of nationalism. “In one year, we have changed the face of French politics," he said.
Macron stressed that, if elected, he will bring in new faces and talents to transform the French political system that "has been incapable of responding to the problems of our country for more than 30 years". "From today I want to build a majority for a government and for a new transformation. It will be made up of new faces and new talent in which every man and woman can have a place," he added.
The other elected contender for the run-off, Le Pen, launched a diatribe against the policies of Macron during her victory speech, warning that Macron’s deregulation policies would lead to unjust international competition against France's business interests, mass immigration and free movement of terrorists. "The great issue in this election is the rampant globalization that is putting our civilization at risk," she said.
Defeated Socialist candidate Benoit Hamon, Socialist Prime Minister Bernard Cazeneuve, and defeated right-wing candidate Francois Fillon all urged their supporters to rally behind Macron in the second round.
French presidential election candidate for the far-right Front National (FN) party Marine Le Pen delivers a speech among her supporters in Henin-Beaumont, on April 23, 2017, after she goes to the run-off presidential vote (Photo by AFP).
Reactions in Europe
German Chancellor Angela Merkel's spokesman hailed Macron's success. "Good that Emmanuel Macron succeeded with his policy for a strong EU and social market economy. Wishing him all the best for the next two weeks,” the spokesman tweeted.
In Brussels, the president of European Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker, has reacted positively to Macron’s success, expressing good wishes for him in the second round.
Markets’ relief
Following the announcement of the initial results, investors reacted positively to what the market regarded as the best of several possible outcomes.
In Asian markets, the euro soared two percent to $1.09395 when markets opened before slipping back to around $1.0886, the euro's highest level since the election of Donald Trump as the US president on November 10.
Moreover, US stock index futures rose sharply on Sunday as investors expect that Macron’s possible election will reduce the prospect of an anti-establishment market shock.
The final outcome of the French presidential poll is being anxiously monitored around the world as a sign of whether the populist tide that saw Britain vote to leave the EU and Donald Trump’s election in the United States is still rising or starting to ebb.
About 50,000 police and 7,000 soldiers have been deployed around France to protect voters in the wake of a policeman’s killing on Thursday.

US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson speaks at the State Department on April 19, 2017 in Washington, DC. (Photo by AFP)
US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson says Russia’s “actions” in eastern Ukraine serve as an “obstacle” in ties between the administration of US President Donald Trump and the Kremlin.
Tillerson, who recently visited Russia, made the comments during a phone conversation with Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko on Sunday, according to acting spokesman Mark Toner.
“Secretary Tillerson phoned Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko today to discuss his recent trip to Moscow and his message to the Russian leadership that, although the United States is interested in improving relations with Russia, Russia’s actions in eastern Ukraine remain an obstacle,” Toner said.
He added that the former ExxonMobil CEO also accepted the Ukrainian president’s “condolences” in regard to the Sunday death of an American monitor with the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, who hit a landmine in eastern Ukraine.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov (L) and US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson arrive to attend a press conference after their talks in Moscow on April 12, 2017. (Photo by AFP)
     
Toner further reiterated Washington’s “firm commitment to Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity and confirmed that sanctions will remain in place until Russia returns control of the Crimean peninsula to Ukraine and fully implements its commitments in the Minsk agreements,” adding that Tillerson also “emphasized the importance of Ukraine’s continued progress on reform and combating corruption.”
Crimea declared independence from Ukraine on March 17, 2014 and formally applied to become part of Russia following a referendum, in which 96.8 percent of participants voted in favor of the move.
After Crimea rejoined Russia, an armed conflict broke out in eastern Ukraine when Kiev launched military operations to quell similar pro-Russia sentiments there. Ukraine accuses Moscow of involvement in the conflict, a charge Russia has denied.
Trump, who has called for better relations between the Kremlin and the White House, said prior to his election victory that "The people of Crimea, from what I've heard, would rather be with Russia than where they were."

Former UK Prime Minister Tony Blair
Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair has called on registered Labour Party voters to break ranks and vote Tory or Liberal Democrat in the upcoming general election, further challenging Jeremy Corbyn’s troubled leadership over the main opposition party.
In an interview with BBC on Sunday, Blair said the issue of getting more members of parliament who could oppose Prime Minister Theresa May’s possible hard Brexit deal was now “bigger than party allegiance.”
“The absolutely central question at this general election is less who is the prime minister on June 9, and more what is the nature of the mandate,” he said.
“Otherwise frankly this is a steamroller election – is it possible that we can return as many members of parliament as possible to parliament that are going to keep an open mind on this Brexit negotiation until we see the final terms.”
Last week, May called for snap general elections to gain a stronger mandate for Britain's withdrawal from the European Union. The request was approved by the Tory-dominated parliament, as the House of Commons voted 522 to 13 to pass the motion.The election will be held on June 8, nearly a year after 52 percent of Britons voted to leave the European Union (EU). The current parliament will dissolve on June 3.
Return to politics
Blair, who was elected PM three times as Labour leader, has positioned himself to join forces with Lib Dems against May, indicating a comeback to politics.
“I look at the British political scene at the moment and I actually almost feel motivated to go right back into it,” he told BBC on Sunday.
When asked whether he was encouraging people to vote for Lib Dems as his new party, Blair gave an evasive answer.
“What I’m advocating may mean that. It may mean voting Labour. It may mean, by the way, that they vote Tory, for candidates who are prepared to give this commitment,” he argued. “This is something that’s bigger than party allegiance, in this particular election.”
The former premier, who risks indictment over his role in the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003, insisted that he “will always vote Labour.”
British opposition Labour Party leader, Jeremy Corbyn, waves after delivering his first campaign speech of the 2017 election in central London on April 20, 2017. (Photo by AFP)
Blair's comments prompted outrage on social media, with some party members calling for him to be fired for backing rival candidates in breach of the party’s rule-book.
“On 9 June, we will either have a Labour government or a Tory one. If you want Brexit to be used to turn Britain into a low-wage tax haven, vote Tory. If you want a Britain for the many not the few after Brexit, vote Labour. The choice is clear,” said a Corbyn spokesman.
Corbyn, who is struggling to close a wide popularity gap with the ruling Tories, has pledged to turn the page and win the vote.

The Afghan nationals whose asylum applications have been rejected arrive from Germany in an airport in Kabul, Afghanistan, December 15, 2016. (Photo by AFP)
Germany has in the span of two months rejected the asylum requests of more than half of the Afghan refugees who had traveled 7,000 kilometers in search of a better life in the European country.
Citing Interior Ministry figures, the German Passauer Neue Presse newspaper reported on Sunday that less than 48 percent of the asylum requests by people from Afghanistan had been accepted in the first two months of 2017.
The newspaper said that in January and February, the government rejected 14,403 of the 27,639 Afghan asylum applications processed.
The report came shortly after another German publication said that thousands of former Taliban militants might have entered Germany over the past two years among an influx of more than a million refugees, including tens of thousands of Afghans.
German weekly news magazine Der Spiegel said in its report on Saturday that a large number of counter-terrorism and criminal investigations had been launched in 2016, with a number of Afghan refugees being held in investigatory detention. It added that preliminary court hearings involving several other Afghans were due to start next week.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s government has been under fire by some political quarters in the country for allowing in large numbers of refugees, especially after several criminal attacks last year by rejected Afghan asylum seekers.
Berlin reached a deal with the Afghan government in October 2016 to have rejected asylum seekers returned to Afghanistan.
In early February, Merkel, a former advocate of an open-doors refugee policy, called on authorities to accelerate the deportations of the rejected refugees. She has defended the increased deportations of such asylum seekers, saying all other European Union countries are doing the same.
A fifth planeload of Afghans is due to be deported back to Afghanistan on Monday, the German Passauer Neue Presse newspaper said.
The cost of the first four flights was estimated at 1.3 million euros (1.4 million dollars), it said, citing a government response to a query by the Greens Party.
Those costs are covered by the EU’s border protection agency, the Frontex.
Afghan refugees are the second largest group of asylum seekers in Germany after Syrians.
Europe has been experiencing an unprecedented influx of refugees over the past couple of years. The asylum seekers have been fleeing conflicts and economic hardships in North Africa and the Middle East.

Consumers shopping at a supermarket in the UK (file photo)
Rising levels of inflation coupled with lackluster wage growth have led UK consumer confidence to fall, according to a new survey, nearly a year after 52 percent of Britons voted to leave the European Union.
According to the study by research firm Deloitte, overall confidence barometer showed minus seven percent for the first quarter of 2017, down one percent from the minus six percent in the previous quarter.
Deloitte also reported that four of its six measures of consumer optimism had dropped during the same period, with confidence in disposable income hitting a two-year low at minus 17 percent. This is while, inflation missed Bank of England’s target.
“Since last summer’s EU referendum consumer spending has held up well, but with inflation rising and nominal wage growth starting to slow, consumers are beginning to feel a squeeze on their disposable income,” Ian Stewart, chief economist at Deloitte, said.
“In March, the rate of inflation stood at 2.3 percent, above the Bank of England’s 2 percent target and the highest in more than two years. There are already some signs that these pressures are contributing to a slowdown in consumer activity,” he added.
Deloitte’s consumer tracker also registered a decrease in consumer spending, where spending on discretionary items had dropped by four percentage points to minus four percent.
Ben Perkins, head of consumer research at Deloitte, blamed the trend on less disposable income, which forced consumers “to consider whether to trade down, buy less or borrow more.”
The robustness of the UK’s consumer-led economy in the wake of the EU vote was questioned in March, after retail sales saw their biggest quarterly fall in seven years.
The government of UK Prime Minister Theresa May has been harshly criticized for the way it is handling Brexit.
The immense criticism led May to request early general elections to gain more authority in the EU talks, a motion that was approved by Parliament. The vote will be held on June 8.

Israel’s former minister of military affairs Moshe Ya’alon has admitted to a tacit alliance with Daesh, saying the Takfiri group had "immediately apologized" to Tel Aviv after firing "once" into Israel.  
International media outlets have already reported extensively on Israeli commandos' missions inside Syria to rescue wounded militants but a senior regime official's acknowledgement of a link with Daesh is unprecedented. 
Ya'alon's explosive revelation came during an interview reported Saturday on Israeli Channel 10’s website, Israeli content portal Mako, which acts as a gateway to Israeli media outlets and websites.
Mako also incorporated footage of the event in the northern Israel city of Afula, during which the former military affairs chief was seen describing an occasion in which Syria-based Daesh terrorists had fired into Golan Heights.
Golan is a Syrian territory, which Tel Aviv has been occupying since 1967 and lays claim on it as its own property. Save some rare alleged rocket attacks from Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula, for which Daesh has reportedly claimed responsibility and have not resulted in any human injury or losses, the group has generally refused to target either Israel or the territories under its occupation.
However, Ya’alon said after opening fire on Golan, Daesh served Tel Aviv with a quick apology, pointing to the alliance between the two, and also suggesting that the group had agreed not to target Israeli interests in line with the rapport.
“On most occasions, firing comes from regions under the control of the (Syrian) regime. But once the firing came from ISIS (Daesh) positions–and it immediately apologized,” he said.
Israeli media outlets, meanwhile, refused to report on the Daesh strike, probably because of either a media blackout or military censorship, reported Tikun Olam, a Seattle-based liberal blog dedicated to outing “the excesses of the Israeli national security state," which also reported Ya’alon’s remarks.
“In the midst of complaining about the Islamist threat to Israel and the world, Bibi (Benjamin) Netanyahu (Israel’s prime minister) conveniently forgets that his own country enjoys a tacit alliance with ISIS in Syria,” said New York-born Dr. Richard Silverstein, who runs the blog. “It is an alliance of convenience to be sure,” he added.
According to him, Ya’alon has been speaking more candidly about the inner workings of the regime since falling out with Netanyahu and being replaced by successor Avigdor Lieberman.
“But he did reveal how closely tied Israel is to ISIS in Syria,” wrote the blogger, who has also documented Israeli collaboration with al-Nusra Front, al-Qaeda’s Syria branch, which has rebranded itself.
In June 2015, the blog published a story reporting on Israel’s interventions in the foreign-backed militancy in Syria in favor of anti-Damascus militants.
It said Tel Aviv and al-Nusra had forged an alliance, featuring the former’s building camps for terrorists and their families in Israel-held territory, holding regular meetings with terrorist commanders, and providing military and other critical supplies to them. 
The report incorporated a video showing Israel’s provision of medical assistance to the terrorists who had been wounded in Syria.

It also cited an incident in which locals had intercepted one Israeli ambulance carrying wounded two Takfiris, forcing the medics to flea and beating up one of the terrorists to death. The other was also seriously injured before Israeli forces intervened to save him.

UK Prime Minister Theresa May (left) and Scotland's First Minister Nicola Sturgeon
The Scottish government has formally asked UK Prime Minister Theresa May to allow it hold a second referendum following the beginning of Britain’s exit process from the European Union. 
Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon made the request in a letter she wrote to May on Friday, two days after London wrote to Brussels announcing the UK's formal withdrawal from the EU.
"I am... writing to begin early discussions between our governments to agree an Order under section 30 of the Scotland Act 1998 that would enable a referendum to be legislated for by the Scottish Parliament," Sturgeon wrote in the letter.
"The people of Scotland must have the right to choose our own future -- in short, to exercise our right of self determination," wrote Sturgeon, leader of the ruling Scottish National Party (SNP).
Sturgeon tweeted a picture in the day, sitting on a couch at her official residence in Edinburgh and writing the Section 30 letter on a fresh referendum vote for her country.
A handout picture released by the Scottish Government shows Scotland's First Minister Nicola Sturgeon working on her Section 30 letter to the British Prime Minister Theresa May requesting a second Scottish independence referendum on March 30, 2017. (Photo by AFP)
Earlier this week, Scottish lawmakers had voted 69 to 59 in favor of seeking permission for a second referendum on independence to take place between autumn 2018 and spring 2019.
The Scottish first minister said her mandate for another vote is now "beyond question," and warned it would be "democratically indefensible and utterly unsustainable" to attempt to stand in the way.
"There appears to be no rational reason for you to stand in the way of the will of the Scottish parliament and I hope you will not do so," she wrote in the letter.
This is while May has repeatedly said the referendum request submitted by the government in Edinburgh will be turned down, insisting that now is not the time for another independence referendum and that all efforts should be on securing the best Brexit deal for the whole of Britain after Article 50 is triggered.
“Now is not the time to focus on a second independence referendum or to be looking at that second independence referendum, because [now] is the time when we need to pull together as a United Kingdom,” Britain's prime minister recently said in an interview with BBC.
Scottish National party MSP's applaud after the vote on a second referendum on independence was carried at Scotland's Parliament in Holyrood, Edinburgh on March 28, 2017. (Photo by AFP)
Scotland held its first referendum in 2014, when over 55 percent of the people voted against independence.
In June last year, nearly 52 percent of Britons opted to leave the bloc during the EU referendum; however, some 62 percent of the Scottish people voted against the Brexit decision.

A view of the National Assembly building in Caracas, Venezuela, on March 30, 2017 (photo by AFP)
Venezuela’s Supreme Court has taken over the legislative functions of the country’s parliament after ruling that the legislature is in contempt of court.
“As long as the National Assembly’s contempt of court and invalidity persist, parliamentary powers shall be exercised directly by [the Supreme Court’s] constitutional chamber or by the body it stipulates to safeguard the rule of law,” the Supreme Court announced in a ruling.
The court had ruled in August 2016 that the opposition majority in the National Assembly was in contempt for swearing in three lawmakers from the southern Amazonas State who had already been suspended over electoral fraud and vote-buying accusations.
The latest Supreme Court ruling is almost certain to worsen the political tensions gripping the South American country, where President Nicolas Maduro is facing fierce attempts by the opposition to force him from power.
The Supreme Court’s ruling came a day after it stripped lawmakers of their legislative immunity, clearing the way for them to face prosecution.
The main opposition coalition, the Democratic Unity Roundtable, won a landslide in legislative elections in December 2015 with a promise to oust Maduro from power. That forced Maduro and his United Socialist Party of Venezuela into sharing power for the first time since its founder, Hugo Chavez, surged to power in 1999.
Maduro has accused opposition lawmakers of treason for asking the Washington-based Organization of American States (OAS) to consider suspending Venezuela from the bloc.
In reaction to the Supreme Court’s ruling, the United States described the move as an effort to “usurp the powers” of the parliament.
The secretary general of the OAS, Luis Almagro, also accused Maduro’s government of carrying out a “self-coup.”
Peru also recalled its ambassador from Caracas in protest and promised to step up efforts to eject Venezuela from the OAS for what it called a “flagrant breach of the democratic order.”
Other regional powers such as Mexico, Brazil, and Argentina also warned that the de facto annulment of the Venezuelan parliament could be a threat to democratic governance in the country.
Venezuela’s Foreign Ministry accused the governments critical of Caracas of forming a "right-wing regional pact" against Maduro, who has called the OAS a pawn of US “imperialism.”
Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro speaks during a meeting with ministers at Miraflores Palace in Caracas, Venezuela, February 9, 2017. (Photo by Reuters)
In the December 2015 elections, in which Maduro lost control of the parliament, voters displayed their anger at soaring inflation, rising poverty, and severe shortages of medicine and basic commodities that have been going on in the country since before those polls.
Venezuela has the world's largest proven oil reserves.
Since then, relations between the executive and legislative bodies have been stuck in tensions.
Last year, the opposition launched an abortive attempt to force Maduro from power by seeking to hold a recall referendum.
The opposition has now called on Venezuelans to take to streets in rallies to oppose the recent ruling by the Supreme Court, which is allied to Maduro.

South African President Jacob Zuma (photo by AFP)
South Africa's president fired his respected finance minister early Friday in a move that spooked investors this week and has sent the country's currency tumbling.
President Jacob Zuma's replacement of Pravin Gordhan comes as part of a cabinet shuffle that changes 10 of the country's 35 ministers.
The new ministers will be sworn in later Friday.
Pressure has been growing on Zuma to step down after he recalled Gordhan, who has a strong reputation as a bulwark against corruption, from a trade trip in London earlier this week.
The recall caused South Africa's rand to lose nearly five percent, another blow to Africa's most industrialized economy that grew just 0.5 percent last year.
Many South Africans had viewed Gordhan as a responsible steward of an economy facing possible credit rating downgrades.
Gordhan has been replaced by Malusi Gigaba, a former home affairs minister, a statement from the president's office said.
South Africa's two main opposition parties took aim at the president on Thursday, with one appealing to the highest court to order impeachment proceedings and the other announcing it will launch a vote of no confidence.
On Wednesday, Gordhan inspired a standing ovation at the funeral of one of South Africa's leading anti-apartheid activists as longtime leaders of the ruling African National Congress, the country's former liberation movement, called for Zuma to step down.
South African Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan attends the funeral of late South African anti-apartheid activist Ahmed Kathrada at the Westpark Cemetery in Johannesburg, South Africa, March 29, 2017. (Photo by AFP)
The new cabinet changes are "to improve efficiency and effectiveness," the statement from Zuma's office said.
But even allies of the ruling party had warned against replacing Gordhan.
The scandal-ridden Zuma in November last year survived an attempt by senior party members to oust him as president.
Earlier last year, South Africa's highest court found that Zuma had violated his oath of office by refusing to abide by an order to pay back some of the millions of dollars in public money spent on upgrading his rural home.

Malaysia and North Korea have lifted mutual bans on nationals from each country leaving the other as part of an agreement that ends a bitter row following the assassination of the North Korean leader’s exiled half-brother in Kuala Lumpur.
The nine Malaysians who had been barred from leaving North Korea in the wake of the dispute returned home after Pyongyang and Kuala Lumpur reached an agreement over transferring the body of the North Korean leader’s half-brother, Kim Jong-nam. Malaysia, too, started allowing North Korean nationals to leave.
In a statement on Thursday, Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak said that after “very sensitive” negotiations, Malaysia agreed to release Kim’s body, which Kuala Lumpur was refusing to hand over to North Korean officials because they had not been cooperative in the Malaysian investigation of Kim’s killing.
No next-of-kin had stepped forward to claim the body either.
“Following the completion of the autopsy on the deceased and receipt of a letter from his family requesting the remains be returned to North Korea, the coroner has approved the release of the body,” Najib said.
North Korea’s official Korean Central News Agency also confirmed the agreement, saying the two sides had pledged to “guarantee the safety and security” of each other’s citizens.
Following the development, Malaysia put Kim’s body on a plane to be delivered to Pyongyang. Earlier, a van was seen leaving the morgue where his body was being held.
Later on Friday, China confirmed that the body had been returned to North Korea. Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang also said that “relevant” North Korean citizens had traveled back to their home country.
A van believed to be carrying the body of Kim Jong-nam leaves the Kuala Lumpur Hospital, in the Malaysian capital, March 30, 2017. (Photo by Reuters)
The Malaysians stuck in North Korea — three embassy workers and six family members including four children — were flown home in a government plane and greeted by Foreign Minister Anifah Aman at the airport.
The exchange effectively ended a seven-week diplomatic row between the two countries that erupted with Kim’s murder at Kuala Lumpur’s International Airport. He was killed with a banned nerve agent amid crowds of travelers at a public terminal of the airport on February 13.
Malaysia, outraged by the brazen act of murder, sought several North Korean nationals, including a diplomat, for questioning. It also said it would conduct an autopsy on the body to determine the cause of the death.
North Korean officials quickly opposed any autopsy, refused to allow access to the North Koreans sought by Malaysia, and demanded that the body be promptly handed over to them.
The dispute lingered as the two sides refused to meet each other’s demands, and a ban was subsequently put in place on nationals from leaving.
Malaysian police arrested the two women who carried out the assassination by rubbing the nerve agent on Kim’s face, which led to his death only after 20 minutes.
Indonesian Siti Aisyah, 25, and Vietnamese Doan Thi Huong, 28, claimed they were fooled into believing they were taking part in a television prank show. They face the death penalty if convicted of the murder at court.
It was not clear what would happen to the two under the deal between Malaysia and North Korea.
North Korean leader Kim Jong-un (L) and his murdered half-brother, Kim Jong-nam (File photos)
North Korea has denied any role in the killing. But South Korean intelligence sources have been putting the blame on Pyongyang.
Kim was planning to travel to the autonomous Chinese region of Macau when he was killed.
His death is considered as the most high-profile death during the reign of his younger brother, Kim Jong-un, since the execution of Jang Song-thaek, the brothers’ once powerful uncle, in December 2013.

Thousands of Argentineans have poured into the streets of the capital, Buenos Aires, to express their dissatisfaction with President Mauricio Macri’s economic policies.
Demonstrators waved banners and national flags and blocked traffic along the main avenues of Buenos Aires during the Thursday march, which had been organized by the General Confederation of Labor (CGT) and backed by other unions.
The protesters also burned an effigy of Macri and chanted slogans against his government’s policies. They said they held the rally to oppose what they called dictatorship.
Those who took part in the march argued that workers were being indiscriminately fired and people were losing their purchasing power. The protesters also asked for the protection of national industry, urging government officials to raise salaries, stop lay-offs, and contain inflation.
A group of immigrants also took part in the march to protest against a recent presidential decree that changed deportation procedures, making it much easier to turn away or deport immigrants.
Thousands of teachers also took to the streets of the capital on Wednesday and Thursday as part of a two-day national strike demanding a 35-percent wage increase to keep pace with inflation. 
Teachers march during a nationwide strike demanding pay rises, in Buenos Aires, Argentina, March 6, 2017. (Photo by AFP)
Tens of thousands of state employees have been fired since Macri took office in 2015. He had vowed to reduce spending and consumer prices.
While Macri’s policies have led to massive protests in the country, he says the measures are needed to revive Argentina’s weak economy, attract investments, and end alleged economic failures by his predecessor, Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner.
Lawmakers hold signs reading “I saw you getting the country back in debt again” in messages addressed to the President Macri, at the parliament in Buenos Aires, Argentina, March 1, 2017. (Photo by Reuters) 
Upcoming congressional elections are seen as crucial for Macri. His “Let’s Change” coalition needs a strong showing in the October polls for him to steam ahead with the free-market policy reforms.
Meanwhile, the country’s largest labor union has called a general strike for April 6.

South Korea’s embattled former president Park Geun-hye has been incarcerated at a detention center following a court decision to approve a warrant for her arrest.
Prosecutors had requested Park’s arrest earlier this week over bribery and abuse of power charges during her tenure.
On Friday, a judge at the Seoul Central District Court said in a statement that, “The cause and the need for the warrant are recognized as the main charges against her have been verified and as evidence could be destroyed,” in a reference to the prosecutors’ concern that Park could destroy evidence if she remained free.
Prosecutors had submitted 120,000 pages of documents to the judge.
About two hours after the ruling, Park was taken to the Seoul Detention Center located just outside the capital city. She could remain locked up for up to 20 days while she is being investigated over the scandal.
Park is accused of colluding with a friend, Choi Soon-sil, to pressure big businesses, including Samsung, to contribute huge sums to non-profit foundations that were set up to back up her initiatives.
The supporters of South Korea’s ousted president Park Geun-hye clash with police outside Park’s home as she leaves for a hearing to decide whether she should be arrested over the corruption and abuse of power scandal, in Seoul, March 30, 2017. The court subsequently ruled that she be arrested. (Photo by AFP)
Park, 65, became the country’s first democratically-elected leader to be ousted from office when the Constitutional Court upheld a parliamentary impeachment vote against her on March 10.
She lost her impunity from prosecution when the March ruling was issued.
Park has denied wrongdoing but publicly apologized several times for carelessness in her ties with Choi, who has also denied the accusations against herself.
Choi is in detention while on going through a trial of her own.

This file photo shows the Israeli settlement of Ma'ale Adumim in the occupied West Bank near East Jerusalem al-Quds. (Photo by AP)
Israel’s security cabinet has unanimously voted in favor of construction of the regime’s first new settlement in the occupied Palestinian territories in 25 years, drawing strong condemnation from Palestinians.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office released a statement on Thursday night, announcing that the new settlement will be built near the West Bank settlement of Emek Shilo and the Palestinian city of Ramallah, The Jerusalem Post reported.
The Israeli ministers also approved the construction of 2,000 settler homes out of the 5,700 units announced two months ago, and endorsed the expropriation of 90 hectares (222 acres) of Palestinian land near the Israeli settlement of Eli north of Ramallah.
The move was swiftly condemned by Palestinian officials, with Hanan Ashrawi, an executive committee member of the Palestine Liberation Organization, saying the “announcement once again proves that Israel is more committed to appeasing its illegal settler population than to abiding by the requirements for stability and a just peace."
Earlier in the day, the Israeli prime minister said the new settlement was intended to house the residents of Amona, a wildcat outpost in the occupied West Bank that was evacuated under a court order in February.
The latest expansionist measures, which are in violation of last year's UN Security Council Resolution 2334, come as the Tel Aviv regime has been holding negotiations with the administration of US President Donald Trump on new settlement building plans.
US President Donald Trump (R) and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu hold a joint press conference at the White House in Washington, DC, on February 15, 2017. (Photo by AFP)
Yoav Horowitz, Netanyahu’s chief of staff, Israeli Ambassador to the US Ron Dermer, and Jason Greenblatt, who heads the US team, have been leading the talks on settlement guidelines over the past three weeks, according to Israeli media reports.
Figures released by Israel's Central Bureau of Statistics showed last week that 2,630 settlement units were constructed in the West Bank last year, marking a rise of 40 percent from 2015.
The figures were released only a day after Netanyahu vowed to press ahead with building new settler units, stressing that the Tel Aviv regime has no plan to limit settlement construction in East Jerusalem al-Quds.
The UN resolution passed in December calls on Israel to “immediately and completely cease all settlement activities in the occupied Palestinian territory, including East Jerusalem” al-Quds.
In this image released by the UN, members of the Security Council vote on December 23, 2016 on a resolution against Israeli settlements. (Photo by AFP)
About 600,000 Israelis live in over 230 illegal settlements built since the 1967 Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territories of the West Bank and East Jerusalem al-Quds.
Palestinians want the West Bank as part of a future independent Palestinian state, with East Jerusalem al-Quds as its capital.
Since the January inauguration of Trump, the Tel Aviv regime has stepped up its construction of settler units on occupied Palestinian land in a blatant violation of international law.

US District Judge Derrick Watson
The US Justice Department has submitted a notice to appeal a ruling from a Hawaii federal judge that indefinitely blocked President Donald Trump's travel restrictions on people from several Muslim-majority countries.
Two weeks ago, US District Judge Derrick Watson was the first to rule against the president’s revised executive order, saying that the state of Hawaii had established that the law could not be enforced because it was unconstitutional.
The ruling blocked the travel ban on the grounds that it violates the Establishment Clause of the Constitution by disfavoring Muslims.
But Watson's initial decision was designed to last only a couple of weeks.
On Wednesday night however, Watson agreed to convert that decision into a longer-term preliminary injunction, extending his previous temporary restraining order.
Protesters rally in front of the Trump Building on Wall Street during a protest against the Trump administration's proposed travel ban and refugee policies, March 28, 2017 in New York City. (Photo by AFP) 
On Thursday, the Justice Department announced to file an appeal to the 9th US Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco, which had already ruled against the initial travel ban.
"The Justice Department strongly disagrees with the federal district court's ruling. The President's executive order fails squarely within his lawful authority in seeking to protect our nation's security, and the department will continue to defend this executive order in the courts," a department spokesperson said in a statement.
In the previous ruling, Watson, a Barack Obama appointee, cited several comments made by Trump and declared that the travel order is, despite the administration’s denials, a Muslim ban.
The court in Hawaii was the first to rule on several legal challenges against the travel ban, which targets people from six mainly Muslim countries -- Iran, Syria, Libya, Yemen, Somalia and Sudan.

The President of the European Commission Jean-Claude Juncker delivers a speech during the European People's Party (EPP) annual conference in Malta, March 30, 2017. (Photo by AFP)
European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker has warned US President Donald Trump to stop supporting Britain's decision to leave the European Union.
Speaking at the European People's Party annual conference in Malta on Thursday, Juncker said he would encourage the independence of the US states of Texas and Ohio unless Trump stops urging  EU countries to follow the Brexit example and leave the EU.
“The newly elected president is delighted to see Britain leave the EU. If he carries on, I am going to promote the independence of Ohio and Austin, Texas.”
He added that Brexit isn’t the end and it should be a new beginning for the European integration.
Juncker made the comments a day after UK Prime Minister Theresa May triggered Article 50 of the EU’s Lisbon Treaty, formally launching the process of leaving the 28-nation bloc.
In January, Trump described the UK’s referendum in June to withdraw from the EU as a “great thing,” arguing that the bloc is heavily influenced by Germany.
Trump also said Brexit signaled the British people’s desire for “their own identity” and predicted that other EU countries would soon follow suit and leave the bloc.
EU leaders have been rattled by Trump's comments on Europe, which they say is aimed at destroying the integrity of the bloc by advocating other nations to follow Brexit.
In late January, French President Francois urged European leaders to form a united front against Trump's stance and remarks.
"Whenever there are statements coming from the president of the United States on Europe and whenever he talks of Brexit as a model for other countries, I believe we should respond," Hollande said.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel and her pro-European allies have also called for a united Europe. “If we act together in Europe, we can do it much better than if we do things on our own in a world that isn’t sleeping,” she said.

North Korean military forces partake in a parade. (file photo)
North Korea is capable of killing millions of Americans by launching a nuclear attack, two high ranking US intelligence officials have claimed, arguing that the secretive republic has already mastered the technology needed to fire massive atomic bombs at the US mainland.
“The mainstream media, and some officials who should know better, continue to allege North Korea does not yet have capability to deliver on its repeated threats to strike the US with nuclear weapons,” James Woolsey, a former CIA director, and Peter Vincent Pry, head of the Congressional EMP Commission, wrote in an article published by The Hill on Wednesday.
The EMP (ectromagnetic pulse) Commission is tasked with assessing the EMP threats against the US and address the country’s vulnerabilities to such threats.
“False reassurance is given to the American people that North Korea has not ‘demonstrated’ that it can miniaturize a nuclear warhead small enough for missile delivery, or build a reentry vehicle for an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) capable of penetrating the atmosphere to blast a US city,” added the article, titled How North Korea could kill 90 percent of Americans.
According to Woolsey and Pry, the CIA's top East Asia analyst publicly confirmed in 2008 that Pyongyang had successfully miniaturized a nuclear warhead and tested it using the Nodong medium-range ballistic missile.
Three years later, then Director of the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) Lieutenant General Ronald Burgess told the Senate Armed Services Committee that North Korea “has weaponized its nuclear devices into warheads for arming ballistic missiles.”
Admiral William Gortney, then Commander of North American Aerospace Defense (NORAD), repeated the same claim in 2015, warning that the North could strike the US with a nuclear-capable KN-08 mobile ICBM.
The article goes on to warn that North Korea’s KMS-3 and KMS-4 satellites have been orbiting the US “on trajectories consistent with surprise EMP attack.”
The authors referred to North Korea’s successful satellite launch and testing of an alleged Hydrogen bomb, warning that Pyongyang had everything it needed to cause chaos in the US.
Concluding that a large part of America’s population was vulnerable to a surprise nuclear attack, Woolsey and Pry made several recommendations to protect them.
“The US must be prepared to preempt North Korea by any means necessary—including nuclear weapons,” they wrote, adding that the US electric grid and national missile defenses should also be hardened against EMP attacks.
Tensions have been running high between the US and North Korea for months now.
Last week, Pyongyang warned Washington that a preemptive strike was always a possibility, after the US and South Korean military forces simulated attacks on North Korean targets during joint military drills that involve 17,000 American troops and more than 300,000 South Koreans.
Washington has been sending sophisticated weapons to the South in order to prevent Seoul against what it calls the North’s “aggression.”

Seattle Mayor Ed Murray speaks at a news conference on March 29, 2017. (Photo by The Seattle Times)
The city of Seattle in the US state of Washington has filed a lawsuit against President Donald Trump's administration over its threat to withhold federal grants from “sanctuary cities” that refuse to cooperate with efforts to find and deport illegal immigrants.
Seattle Mayor Ed Murray announced the federal lawsuit on Wednesday, saying Trump’s executive order issued in January that punishes so-called sanctuary cities is unconstitutional and creates uncertainty around the city's budget.
"Apparently the Trump administration, their war on facts has now become a war on cities," Murray said during a news conference. "Let me be clear about the facts. We are not breaking any laws and we are prioritizing safety."
Under Trump’s order, Seattle could face about $10 million in cuts to public safety programs, he said.
The Trump administration's threat violates the US Constitution by trying to make the city’s law enforcement enforce federal immigration law, Murray said.
The lawsuit, filed at the US federal court in Seattle, asks a judge to declare that the city is in compliance with the law and that the executive order is unconstitutional under the 10th Amendment and the Spending Clause of the US Constitution.
"This administration has created an atmosphere of anxiety in cities across America and has created chaos in our politics," Murray said. "It is time for cities to stand up and ask the courts to put an end to the anxiety in our communities and the chaos in our system.”
The order also makes communities less safe by forcing people underground, Seattle City Attorney Pete Holmes said at the same news conference.
Other local governments have sued Trump over the executive order.
The city of San Francisco and Santa Clara County in California filed lawsuits earlier this year. Two Massachusetts cities with large Hispanic populations - Chelsea and Lawrence - have also taken legal action.
On Monday, US Attorney General Jeff Sessions threatened to withhold grants by the Justice Department from cities that fail to assist federal immigration authorities, moving the Trump administration closer to a potential conflict with leaders of the largest urban centers in the US.
Sessions' statements were aimed at dozens of cities, including New York, Los Angeles and Chicago that have joined a growing "sanctuary" movement aimed at protecting undocumented immigrants from increasing deportation efforts.

David Friedman is sworn-in as the US ambassador to Israel during a ceremony in the Indian Treaty Room of the Eisenhower Executive Office Building, next to the White House, on March 29, 2017 in Washington, DC. (Photo by AFP)
David Friedman, a strong proponent of Israel’s illegal settlements in the occupied Palestinian land, has been sworn in as the new US ambassador to the Tel Aviv regime.
US Vice President Mike Pence administered the oath of office to Friedman on Wednesday, about a week after the Senate confirmed his nomination in a 52-46 vote.
"One of the clearest signs of the president's commitment to the state of Israel and to its people is in his choice of David Friedman as America's Ambassador to Israel," Pence said, haling Trump’s decision to nominate the anti-Palestinian Jewish American attorney for the crucial diplomatic post.
Friedman, who once served as Trump's bankruptcy lawyer, is critical of the two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and supports Israel’s illegal settlement activities on the occupied territories. The 58-year-old has also backed the idea of moving the US embassy from Tel Aviv to East Jerusalem al-Quds.
‘Trump is a lifelong friend of Israel’
US Vice President Mike Pence (L) administers the swearing-in ceremony for David Friedman (C) as the US ambassador to Israel in the Indian Treaty Room of the Eisenhower Executive Office Building, next to the White House, on March 29, 2017. (Photo by AFP)
“The president of the United States of America is a lifelong friend of Israel and the Jewish people and, under his leadership, if the world knows nothing else the world will know this: America stands with Israel,” Pence said.
"This is a critical time for our two nations and our peoples. The challenges we face are many, but our resolve to overcome them has never been stronger," he stated.
“Under President Trump's leadership, the United States will always be a faithful friend to the Jewish State of Israel,” the VP added.
On Sunday, Pence told the 2017 AIPAC policy conference in Washington, DC, Trump is “serious” about moving the US embassy in Israel to Jerusalem al-Quds.
Trump's rise has emboldened Israeli extremists to implement their illegal policies and further their occupational agenda by transferring the embassy, a move that Palestinian officials and prominent American politicians have warned against.
Emboldened by the Trump administration’s support, the regime in Tel Aviv has given the go-ahead to the construction of many new settlement units.
Over half a million Israelis live in over 230 settlements built illegally since the 1967 occupation of the Palestinian territories.
The presence and continued expansion of Israeli settlements in the occupied Palestine has created a major obstacle for the efforts to establish peace in the Middle East.
Pursuit of Palestinian state is ‘damaging anachronism’
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu laughs while chairing a cabinet meeting in Jerusalem al-Quds on March 26, 2017.
During the 2016 presidential campaign, Friedman was Trump’s adviser on US-Israel relations.
Friedman, a son of an Orthodox rabbi with no previous political experience, has previously argued that the pursuit of a Palestinian state is a “damaging anachronism.”
Some 600 American rabbis signed a letter last month against Friedman’s appointment as the US ambassador.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has welcomed Friedman's nomination. He tweeted that Friedman "will be warmly welcomed as President Trump's representative and as a close friend of Israel."

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