North Korean leader berates officials over hospital project

North Korean leader berates officials over hospital project

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In this photo provided by the North Korean government, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un speaks during an enlarged meeting of the Central Military Commission of the Workers’ Party of Korea in Pyongyang, North Korea Saturday, July 18, 2020. Independent … more >

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By KIM TONG-HYUNG

Associated Press

Sunday, July 19, 2020

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) – North Korean leader Kim Jong Un berated construction managers for unspecified problems in building a showpiece hospital in comments reported Monday that may indicate the country is struggling to secure the supplies amid U.S.-led sanctions and a coronavirus lockdown.

During a visit to the construction site in Pyongyang, Kim lamented that his ambitious project of building a new general hospital was being carried out in a “careless manner” and without a proper budget and ordered all officials responsible to be replaced, the North’s official Korean Central News Agency said.

The report said Kim accused construction managers of making a “serious digression” from the ruling party’s policy over the supply of materials and equipment by “burdening the people by encouraging all kinds of ‘assistance,’’’ which apparently indicated rising complaints among people who were mobilized for its construction.

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The KCNA report didn’t say when Kim visited the site and didn’t mention any comments by Kim over stalled nuclear diplomacy with the Trump administration or international sanctions over his nuclear weapons program.

In announcing the plans to build the hospital in March, Kim made a rare acknowledgement that his country lacks modern medical facilities and called for urgent improvements in the country’s health care system.

However, the country hasn’t directly linked the hospital project to the coronavirus pandemic and has steadfastly maintained that no one in its territory has been sickened by COVID-19, a claim many foreign experts doubt.

Experts say the pandemic has hurt the North’s economy, already battered by stringent U.S.-led sanctions over its nuclear weapons and missile programs.

Kim desperately sought sanctions relief during a flurry of diplomacy with the United States in 2018 and 2019. But talks have faltered since his second summit with President Donald Trump in February 2019.

Experts say the COVID-19 crisis likely thwarted some of Kim’s major economic goals by forcing the country into a lockdown that shut the border with China, its major ally and economic lifeline, and potentially hampered his ability to mobilize people for labor.

UN frees up ‘expense’ money for several declared terrorists

UN frees up ‘expense’ money for several declared terrorists

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By KATHY GANNON

Associated Press

Wednesday, July 15, 2020

ISLAMABAD (AP) – The United Nations has freed up “expense” money for several men designated as terrorists at the request of the Pakistani government, including one with a $10 million U.S. bounty on his head.

Pakistan’s Foreign Ministry said in a statement Wednesday the money will cover basic expenses and doesn’t involve any restoration or unfreezing of bank accounts.

“These exemptions are being enforced and monitored as per law,” the statement said.

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Pakistan put in the request last year in keeping with U.N. regulations, which allows for money to be released – but carefully monitored – from frozen bank accounts belonging to individuals declared terrorists by the world body.

Pakistani officials didn’t reveal how many designated terrorists were on the list sent to the U.N. or how much money was released or the nature of the expenses for which the outlawed individuals required the money.

However, a diplomatic source confirmed Hafiz Saeed, the founder of militant group Lashkar-e-Taiba and alleged mastermind behind the 2008 attack in Mumbai India that killed more than 160 people, was on the list. Saeed is also on India’s most wanted list.

The diplomat spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media about the details of the request or the U.N. decision.

In 2008, Lashkar-e-Taiba militants carried out a series of attacks that culminated in the siege of a luxury hotel.

A Pakistani anti-terrorist court convicted Saeed in February and sentenced him to 5 1/2 years in jail on convictions of financing terrorism and having links with terrorists. He has appealed his conviction and sentence.

Instead of going to jail, however, Saeed was put under house arrest at his sprawling home in the Johar neighborhood of the eastern city of Lahore, the capital of Pakistan’s Punjab province.

Saeed’s home is in a residential neighborhood protected by steel barriers that stretch across the streets leading to his home, which is guarded by uniformed police.

Saeed’s Lashkar-e-Taiba has been linked to Pakistan’s powerful military and intelligence service, although Pakistan has routinely denied any links.

Although Saeed’s group has been linked to attacks outside the region, its activities have mostly been directed at Pakistan’s enemy neighbor India and the dispute in the Himalayan region of Kashmir, a former princely state divided between Pakistan and India and claimed by both.

The nuclear-armed neighbors have twice gone to war over Kashmir. They fought a third war in 1971 over Bangladesh, or what was then East Pakistan.

The two countries have come dangerously close to a fourth war and Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan in recent months has launched a political and diplomatic initiative against New Delhi’s crippling restrictions and heavy-handed crackdown on its side of Kashmir, one of India’s only Muslim-dominated regions.

____

Associated Press writer Edith M. Lederer reported from New York

Kim Jong-un urges North Koreans to keep up coronavirus fight

Kim Jong-un urges North Koreans to keep up coronavirus fight

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In this photo provided by the North Korean government, North Korean leader Kim Jong-un attends a Politburo meeting of the Central Committee of the Workers’ Party of Korea in Pyongyang, North Korea Thursday, June 2, 2020. Independent journalists were not … more >

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By Hyung-jin and Kim Tong-hyung

Associated Press

Friday, July 3, 2020

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — North Korean leader Kim Jong-un urged officials to maintain alertness against the coronavirus, warning that complacency risked “unimaginable and irretrievable crisis,” state media said Friday.

Despite the warning, Kim reaffirmed North Korea’s claim to not have had a single case of COVID-19, telling a ruling party meeting Thursday that the country has “thoroughly prevented the inroad of the malignant virus” despite the worldwide health crisis, the Korean Central News Agency said.

Outsiders widely doubt North Korea escaped the pandemic entirely, given its poor health infrastructure and close trade and travel ties to China, where the coronavirus emerged late last year.

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Describing its anti-virus efforts as a “matter of national existence,” North Korea earlier this year shut down nearly all cross-border traffic, banned tourists and mobilized health workers to quarantine anyone with similar symptoms to the disease.

Experts say the country’s self-imposed lockdown is hurting an economy already battered by stringent U.S.-led sanctions over its nuclear weapons and missile programs.

The KCNA report said Kim during the politburo meeting of the Workers’ Party “stressed the need to maintain maximum alert without a slight self-complacence or relaxation” as the virus continues to spread in neighboring countries.

The agency said Kim sharply criticized inattentiveness among officials and violations of emergency anti-virus rules and warned that a “hasty relief of anti-epidemic measures will result in unimaginable and irretrievable crisis.”

The North’s official Rodong Sinmun newspaper published several photos of Kim at the meeting, which were the first state media images of him in weeks. Neither Kim nor the ruling party officials who participated were wearing masks.

Kim’s recent statement suggests North Korea’s stringent border closure with China, its biggest trading partner and economic pipeline, will likely continue despite the toll that is taking on the already heavily sanctioned economy.

According to Chinese data, the North’s exports to China and imports from it both plunged by more than 90% for two consecutive months in March and April. In May, the North’s trade volume with China increased by about 164% from the month before, suggesting North Korea was trying to restore trade, the IBK Economic Research Institute said in a report.

Cho Hey-sil, a spokeswoman at the South Korean Unification Ministry, told reporters Friday that it remains to be seen whether North Korea’s trade with China will fully resume.

Even before the pandemic, North Korea was grappling with the pain of U.N. sanctions imposed over its nuclear program. Its trade volume with China in 2019 was more than halved compared with 2016 figures, after new U.N. sanctions targeting the North’s major export items such as coal, textiles and seafood were adopted in recent years.

Kim was desperate to win sanctions relief when he engaged in a flurry of diplomacy with the United States, including three summits with President Donald Trump, in 2018 and 2019.

But those efforts have made little headway since the second Kim-Trump summit in Vietnam in February 2019 ended when Trump rejected Kim’s demands for extensive sanctions relief in return for partial denuclearization.

Last year, Kim launched an ambitious five-year national development plan, but experts say the coronavirus crisis likely thwarted some of his major economic goals. Kim in December declared a “frontal breakthrough” against the sanctions while urging his nation to stay resilient in the struggle for economic self-reliance.

In May, South Korea’s spy agency told lawmakers that panic buying had taken place in Pyongyang amid skyrocketing prices of imported food such as sugar and seasonings, before authorities clamped down on those cornering the market.

North Korea monitoring groups in Seoul recently said the price of rice and key commodities and foreign exchange rates in markets in Pyongyang remain stable. Ahn Kyung-su, head of the Seoul-based private dprkhealth.org institute, which focuses on health issues in the North, said there could be Chinese aid shipments and unofficial bilateral trade taking place that isn’t reflected in official trade figures.

In its weekly updates to the World Health Organization, North Korea’s Ministry of Public Health said the country has tested 922 people for the coronavirus as of June 19 and that all of the results were negative, according to Edwin Salvador, WHO’s representative to the North.

In an email sent to The Associated Press, Salvador said North Korea told the WHO it has so far released 25,551 people from quarantine and that as many as 255 people remain isolated.

“They are laborers working at the seaport and Sinuiju-Dandong land border,” Salvador said, referring to an area on the North KoreaChina border. “They have been quarantined after handling goods arriving into the country.”

While all borders of North Korea continue to remain mostly closed, goods are being transported into the country through a few channels, including a sea route from the Chinese city of Dalian and the North Korean port of Nampo, Salvador said. He said medical supplies have been prioritized.

South Korean police raid office of anti-North activist

South Korean police raid office of anti-North activist

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A banner with images of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, left, the late leader Kim Il Sung, center, and Kim Yo Jong, the powerful sister of Kim Jong Un, released by Fighters For Free North Korea, is seen in … more >

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By HYUNG-JIN KIM

Associated Press

Friday, June 26, 2020

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) – South Korea police on Friday raided the office of an activist whose anti-North Korea leafleting campaign has intensified tensions on the Korean Peninsula.

Police said officers visited the Seoul office of Park Sang-hak to confiscate leaflets, account books and other related materials. The Seoul Metropolitan Police Agency said that Park will be summoned soon for an investigation.

Park, a North Korean refugee who has launched balloons carrying propaganda leaflets toward North Korea for years, has been in the spotlight after North Korea abruptly used his campaign as a justification for a series of provocative steps against South Korea. Among them was blowing up an empty liaison office built by South Korea on the North’s territory.

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South Korean officials later demanded police investigate Park for allegedly raising animosities with North Korea and potentially endangering residents living near the border.

Authorities in Gyeonggi province, which borders North Korea, requested a separate investigation of several activist groups, including Park’s, for alleged fraud, embezzlement and other charges over their donation activities.

Park said Monday that his leafleting was only aimed at informing North Korean residents of the truth about their government and that he would keep sending balloons to them.

The pressure on activists has led to criticism that the liberal government of President Moon Jae-in is sacrificing democratic principles to salvage its faltering efforts for reconciliation with North Korea. The governor of Gyeonggi province is affiliated with Moon’s ruling party.

A police agency official involved in the case said officers also raided the office of Park’s brother, Park Jung-oh, who has floated plastic bottles filled with rice toward North Korea across the sea boundary. The official, who requested anonymity because the investigation is ongoing, said police plan to summon Park Jung-oh too.

Voice of the Martyrs Korea, a Seoul-based Christian nonprofit group, said in a statement Friday that it flew four balloons carrying an unspecified number of Bibles toward North Korea on Thursday. Seoul’s Unification Ministry expressed regret over the activities and said authorities have already been investigating the organization over its past balloon launches.

Earlier this week, Park Sang-hak said his organization covertly launched huge balloons carrying 500,000 leaflets toward North Korea, despite the repeated warnings from both Koreas not to do so. The South Korean government expressed regret over Park’s activities, but it wasn’t independently confirmed whether all his balloons reached North Korean territory. One was later found in South Korea.

Tensions between the Koreas temporarily eased on Wednesday, when North Korea announced it would put off steps to avenge the South Korean leafleting, such as sending its own anti-Seoul flyers, resuming military exercises and reestablishing guard posts at the border in violation of 2018 agreements to reduce tensions.

Some experts say North Korea’s saber rattling is aimed at extracting outside concessions in the face of crippling U.S.-led sanctions and the coronavirus pandemic.

S Korea urges North to uphold deals amid rising animosities

S Korea urges North to uphold deals amid rising animosities

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In this March 2, 2019, file photo, Kim Yo Jong, sister of North Korea’s leader Kim Jong Un attends a wreath-laying ceremony at Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum in Hanoi, Vietnam. The powerful sister of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un … more >

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By HYUNG-JIN KIM

Associated Press

Saturday, June 13, 2020

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) – South Korea on Sunday convened an emergency security meeting and urged North Korea to uphold reconciliation agreements, hours after the North threatened to demolish a liaison office and take military action against its rival.

There’s concern that North Korea could turn to provocation to bolster its internal unity and wrest outside concessions as nuclear talks with the United States remain deadlocked. Observers say North Korea desperately needs sanctions relief in the face of harsh U.S.-led sanctions and the coronavirus pandemic.

South Korea’s national security director, Chung Eui-yong, held an emergency video conference with ministers in charge of security and military generals on Sunday morning to discuss the latest situation on the Korean Peninsula and the government’s possible steps, the presidential Blue House said in a statement.

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The Unification Ministry, which handles relations with North Korea, later said that both Koreas must strive to abide by all agreements they have reached. The Defense Ministry said separately it closely monitors North Korea’s military and maintains a firm military readiness.

Both ministries said the South Korean government “views the current situation as grave.”

On Saturday night, Kim Yo Jong, the influential sister of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, warned that Seoul will soon witness “a tragic scene of the useless North-South liaison office (in North Korea) being completely collapsed.” She also said she would leave to North Korea’s military the right to take the next step of retaliation against South Korea.

North Korea earlier suspended communication lines with South Korea and threatened to nullify 2018 agreements that led the Koreas to halt firing exercises, remove some land mines and tear down guard posts in front-line areas.

The North has linked its recent series of threats to Seoul’s failure to prevent activists from launching propaganda leaflets across their border. But some experts say North Korea is deeply frustrated that South Korea hasn’t done enough to revive lucrative joint economic projects as well as over a lack of progress in its nuclear talks with Washington.

The negotiations have made little progress since a second summit between Kim Jong Un and President Donald Trump in early 2019 fell apart because of disputes over how much sanctions should be lifted in return for Kim’s dismantling his main nuclear complex.

Kim later vowed to expand his nuclear arsenal, introduce a new strategic weapon and overcome the U.S.-led sanctions that he said “stifles” his country’s economy.

He also pushed South Korea to resume the operations of the two big inter-Korean projects – a factory park and a tourism site, both in North Korea – but South Korea was unable to do so due to the sanctions.

Kim’s struggle to address economic woes has likely faced setbacks as the coronavirus pandemic forced North Korea to close its border with China, its biggest trading partner. North Korea says it hasn’t reported a single outbreak but foreign experts question that claim and warn a pandemic in the North could be dire due to its fragile heath care system.

Some observers say the end of the 2018 deals could allow North Korea to send ships across the disputed sea boundary, float down mines on a border river or take other provocative steps at the border area. The South Korean Defense Ministry statement said the 2018 deals must be maintained to prevent accidental armed clashes and establish peace on the Korean Peninsula.

But it’s still unclear if the North would go ahead with its threat to destroy the liaison office, which was built at a North Korean border town following a 2018 summit between Kim Jong Un and South Korean President Moon Jae-in. Such a move could deepen anti-Pyongyang sentiments and make it difficult for the North to restore ties with South Korea when needed.

Kim Jong Un’s sister threatens S. Korea with military action

Kim Jong Un’s sister threatens S. Korea with military action

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FILE – In this June 30, 2019, file photo, President Donald Trump, left, meets with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and South Korean President Moon Jae-in, right, at the border village of Panmunjom in the Demilitarized Zone, South Korea. … more >

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By KIM TONG-HYUNG

Associated Press

Saturday, June 13, 2020

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) – The powerful sister of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un threatened military action against South Korea as she bashed Seoul on Saturday over declining bilateral relations and its inability to stop activists from floating anti-Pyongyang leaflets across the border.

Describing South Korea as an “enemy,” Kim Yo Jong repeated an earlier threat she had made by saying Seoul will soon witness the collapse of a “useless” inter-Korean liaison office in the border town of Kaesong.

Kim, who is first vice department director of the ruling Workers’ Party’s Central Committee, said she would leave it to North Korea’s military leaders to carry out the next step of retaliation against the South.

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“By exercising my power authorized by the supreme leader, our party and the state, I gave an instruction to the arms of the department in charge of the affairs with enemy to decisively carry out the next action,” she said in a statement carried by the North’s official Korean Central News Agency.

“If I drop a hint of our next plan the (South Korean) authorities are anxious about, the right to taking the next action against the enemy will be entrusted to the General Staff of our army,” she said. “Our army, too, will determine something for cooling down our people’s resentment and surely carry out it, I believe.”

Kim’s harsh rhetoric demonstrates her elevated status in North Korea’s leadership. Already seen as the most powerful woman in the country and her brother’s closest confidant, state media recently confirmed that she is now in charge of relations with South Korea.

The liaison office in Kaesong, which has been shut since January due to coronavirus concerns, was set up as a result of one of the main agreements reached in three summits between Kim Jong Un and South Korean President Moon Jae-in in 2018.

Moon’s government had lobbied hard to set up nuclear summits between Kim and President Donald Trump, who have met three times since 2018. At the same time, Moon also worked to improve inter-Korean relations.

But North Korea in recent months has suspended virtually all cooperation with the South while expressing frustration over the lack of progress in its nuclear negotiations with the Trump administration.

Over the past week, the North declared that it would cut off all government and military communication channels with the South and threatened to abandon key inter-Korean peace agreements reached by their leaders in 2018.

They include a military agreement in which the Koreas committed to jointly take steps to reduce conventional military threats, such as establishing border buffers and no-fly zones. They also removed some front-line guard posts and jointly surveyed a waterway near their western border in an unrealized plan to allow freer civilian navigation.

In an earlier statement last week, Kim Yo Jong said that the North would scrap the military agreement, “which is hardly of any value,” while calling North Korean defectors who send leaflets from the South “human scum” and “mongrel dogs.”

Her comments on Saturday came hours after a senior North Korean Foreign Ministry official said that Seoul should drop “nonsensical” talk about the North’s denuclearization, and that his country would continue to expand its military capabilities to counter what it perceives as threats from the United States.

In response to North Korea’s anger over the leaflets, South Korea’s government has said it would press charges against two defector groups that have been carrying out border protests.

The South also said it would push new laws to ban activists from flying the leaflets across the border, but there’s been criticism over whether Moon’s government is sacrificing democratic principles to keep alive his ambitions for inter-Korean engagement.

For years, activists have floated huge balloons into North Korea carrying leaflets criticizing Kim Jong Un over his nuclear ambitions and dismal human rights record. The leafleting has sometimes triggered a furious response from North Korea, which bristles at any attempt to undermine its leadership.

While Seoul has sometimes sent police officers to block the activists during sensitive times, it had previously resisted North Korea’s calls to fully ban them, saying they were exercising their freedom. Activists have vowed to continue with the balloon launches.

But it’s unlikely that North Korea’s belligerence is about just the leaflets, analysts say.

The North has a long track record of dialing up pressure on the South when it doesn’t get what it wants from the United States. Its threats to abandon inter-Korean agreements came after months of frustration over Seoul’s refusal to defy U.S.-led sanctions and restart joint economic projects.

Some experts say North Korea, which has mobilized people for massive demonstrations condemning defectors, is deliberately censuring the South to rally its public and shift attention away from a bad economy, which likely has worsened during the COVID-19 pandemic.

It’s unclear what kind of military action the North would take against the South, although weapons tests are an easy guess. Kim Dong-yub, an analyst from Seoul’s Institute for Far Eastern Studies, said North Korea could also be “planning something” near the countries’ disputed western maritime border, which has occasionally been the scene of bloody clashes over the years.

Nuclear talks faltered at Kim Jong Un’s second summit with Trump in Vietnam in February last year after the United States rejected North Korea’s demands for major sanctions relief in exchange for a partial surrender of its nuclear capabilities.

Trump and Kim met for a third time that year in June at the border between North and South Korea and agreed to resume talks. But an October working-level meeting in Sweden broke down over what the North Koreans described as the Americans’ “old stance and attitude.”

On the two-year anniversary of the first Kim-Trump meeting, North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Son Gwon said Friday that the North would never again gift Trump with high-profile meetings he could boast as foreign policy achievements unless it gets something substantial in return.

South Korea to charge defector groups over North leaflets

South Korea to charge defector groups over North leaflets

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South Korea’s Unification Ministry’s spokesman Yoh Sang-key speaks during a briefing at the government complex in Seoul, South Korea, Wednesday, June 10, 2020. South Korea’s government on Wednesday said it will sue two activist groups that have sent anti-Pyongyang leaflets … more >

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By KIM TONG-HYUNG

Associated Press

Wednesday, June 10, 2020

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) – South Korea’s government said Wednesday that it will press charges against two activist groups that have been floating anti-Pyongyang leaflets and bottles filled with rice to North Korea.

Any action against the groups is likely to trigger a debate over freedom of expression in South Korea, and whether President Moon Jae-in’s liberal government is sacrificing democratic principles to keep alive his ambitions for inter-Korean engagement.

The announcement by Seoul’s Unification Ministry came a day after North Korea said it was cutting off all communication channels with South Korea over its inability to prevent North Korean defectors and other activists from flying the leaflets across the border.

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One of the targeted defector-activists condemned what he described as a “treacherous” move by Seoul and vowed to launch even more leaflets across the border in coming weeks, using not only balloons but also drones.

Yoh Sang-key, the ministry’s spokesman, told reporters the two organizations facing charges had “created tensions between the South and North and brought danger to the lives and safety of (South Korean) residents in border areas.”

The ministry said last week that the government would push new laws to ban activists from flying the leaflets across the border, after the North threatened to end an inter-Korean military agreement reached in 2018 to reduce tensions if Seoul failed to prevent the protests.

Aside from severing government and military communication channels, the North also said it would permanently shut down a liaison office and a factory park in the border town of Kaesong, which have been major symbols of reconciliation.

For years, activists have floated huge balloons into North Korea carrying leaflets criticizing leader Kim Jong Un over his nuclear ambitions and dismal human rights record. The leafleting has sometimes triggered a furious response from North Korea, which bristles at any attempt to undermine its leadership.

In 2014, soldiers exchanged fire after South Korean activists released propaganda balloons across the Demilitarized Zone, but no casualties were reported.

While Seoul has sometimes sent police officers to block the activists during sensitive times, it had previously resisted North Korea’s calls to fully ban them, saying they were exercising their freedom.

Yoh said that the two groups, led by North Korean defector Park Sang-hak and his brother Park Jung-oh, violated a law governing inter-Korean exchanges and cooperation by sending unauthorized materials to the North. The ministry confirmed it was the first time the law, which is designed to prevent South Korean organizations from providing unauthorized goods to North Korea, was being used against defectors’ anti-Pyongyang activities.

Park Sang-hak’s Fighters for a Free North Korea has launched balloons with anti-Pyongyang leaflets for years. Park Jung-oh leads the group Keun Saem, which on Monday unsuccessfully tried to float rice-filled bottles into North Korea from a border town before being blocked by South Korean police.

“Since when has the Ministry of Unification become the ministry of treason?” Park Sang-hak told The Associated Press. “We will respond not with words but with action, by flying even more leaflets to North Korean people.”

Park said he will also try to use drones so that he “could drop the leaflets on Kim Jong Un’s head.” He didn’t say when the launches will happen, but that he was ready “whenever the winds are good.”

The ministry didn’t say whether it was planning to take similar legal action against another group led by Lee Min-bok, also a North Korean defector who has been flying leaflets into the North for years.

Experts say North Korea’s move to cut off communication channels was likely more than just about leafleting as it comes after months of frustration over Seoul’s unwillingness to defy U.S.-led sanctions and resume inter-Korean economic projects that would breathe life into the North’s broken economy.

North Korea has suspended virtually all cooperation with South Korea in recent months amid a stalemate in larger nuclear negotiations with Washington. The talks faltered last year with the Americans rejecting the North’s demands for major sanctions relief in exchange for partial surrender of its nuclear capabilities.

South Korea’s government and military said officials tried to contact their North Korean counterparts via several channels after the North’s announcement on Tuesday but got no answer. Yoh said Wednesday his ministry will stop trying before the Koreas agree to resume the channels.

The liaison office in Kaesong has been closed since late January after the Koreas agreed to temporarily shut it until the COVID-19 pandemic is controlled.

North Korea, South Korea exchange gunfire after Kim Jong-un reemerges

Pompeo: ‘Accidental’ shots led to gunfire exchange between North, South Korea

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In this Friday, May 1, 2020, photo provided by the North Korean government, North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, center, visits a fertilizer factory in South Pyongan, near Pyongyang, North Korea. Kim made his first public appearance in 20 days as … more >

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By Ben Wolfgang

The Washington Times

Updated: 5:08 p.m. on
Sunday, May 3, 2020

North and South Korean military forces traded gunfire Sunday in what U.S. officials believe started with an “accidental” shot from the northern side of the border, increasing tensions between the two nations just as reclusive North Korean leader Kim Jong-un emerged from a mysterious three-week absence from the world stage.

South Korean military leaders said the brief exchange began after North Korean forces fired several shots at a guard post across the Demilitarized Zone separating the two nations. South Korean troops then fired 20 rounds of warning shots before issuing a warning broadcast, officials in Seoul said.

While no one was injured, the incident cast a spotlight on the delicate situation along the border and served as a warning of how any miscalculation along the DMZ can quickly turn violent.

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Trump administration officials say they believe the gunfire began with an accidental shot fired by North Korean forces. There were reports of heavy fog in the area at the time of the exchange, possibly contributing to the brief exchange.

“A handful of shots that came across from the north — we think those are accidental,” Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Sunday ABC’s “This Week.” “South Koreans did return fire. So far as we can tell, there was no loss of life on either side.”

Sunday marked the first time the nations, which technically are still at war, fired on one another since November 2017, when North Korean forces shot at a defector fleeing across the border.

The latest incident came just a day after Mr. Kim reappeared in public after a nearly three-week absence that fueled speculation he was gravely ill or perhaps had died. His failure to appear at key public events, including an April 15 ceremony honoring the birthday of his late grandfather, Kim Il-sung, raised questions about whether the 36-year-old Mr. Kim had contracted COVID-19 or had undergone surgery for another health issue.

But North Korean media over the weekend showed images of Mr. Kim attending a ceremony to mark the completion of a fertilizer factory near Pyongyang, and U.S. officials later concluded that those images appeared to be genuine.

“It looks like Chairman Kim is alive and well,” Mr. Pompeo said.

President Trump, who has met with Mr. Kim several times amid his administration’s ongoing push for a denuclearization deal on the Korean Peninsula, shared the North Korean photos on his Twitter feed Saturday.

“I, for one, am glad to see he is back, and well!” Mr. Trump tweeted.

Earlier last week, Mr. Trump suggested to reporters that he knew the reasons for Mr. Kim’s sudden disappearance, though he offered no details.

“I do have a very good idea, but I can’t talk about it now,” Mr. Trump said. “I hope he’s fine. I do know how he’s doing, relatively speaking. We will see. You’ll probably be hearing in the not-too-distant future.”

Denuclearization talks between Washington and Pyongyang broke down early last year during a meeting between Mr. Trump and Mr. Kim in Vietnam, after both sides seemingly had made progress on an agreement earlier.

Pyongyang insisted that the U.S. begin lifting sanctions before North Korea would begin to dismantle its nuclear program; the White House stood firm that economic relief would come only after verifiable steps toward denuclearization.

North Korea earlier this year conducted several provocative missile tests, though they garnered relatively little attention as the U.S. and other world governments focused on the coronavirus pandemic.

Kim Jong-un makes first public appearance in three weeks; Trump has no comment

Kim Jong-un makes first public appearance in three weeks; Trump has no comment

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In this Friday, May 1, 2020, photo provided by the North Korean government, North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, center, visits a fertilizer factory in South Pyongan, near Pyongyang, North Korea. Kim made his first public appearance in 20 days as … more >

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By Dave Boyer

The Washington Times

Friday, May 1, 2020

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un made his first public appearance in 20 days on Friday, and President Trump didn’t want to discuss it with reporters.

“I’d rather not comment on it yet,” Mr. Trump said as he departed the White House Friday afternoon for a working weekend at Camp David. “We’ll have something to say about it at the appropriate time.”

Mr. Kim, who was rumored to be near death or dead, made a public appearance at the opening of a fertilizer factor Friday, according to state media and Korean Central Radio.

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The 36-year-old didn’t attend public celebrations of his grandfather’s birthday on April 15, leading to speculation that he was gravely ill.

Officials: US seeks indefinite UN arms embargo on Iran

Officials: US seeks indefinite UN arms embargo on Iran

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The empty chair of Iran’s Ambassador to the International Atomic Energy Agency, IAEA, is pictured prior to the start of the IAEA board of governors meeting at the International Center in Vienna, Austria, Monday, March 9, 2020. (AP Photo/Ronald Zak) more >

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By EDITH M. LEDERER and MATTHEW LEE

Associated Press

Tuesday, April 28, 2020

UNITED NATIONS (AP) – The United States has circulated a draft U.N. resolution that would indefinitely extend a U.N. arms embargo on Iran set to expire in October, a move almost certain to spark opposition from Russia, which has made no secret of its desire to resume conventional weapons sales to Tehran, U.S. officials and U.N. diplomats said Tuesday.

The draft document, which as of Tuesday had been circulated only to a small number of Security Council members, would strike the expiration of the arms embargo from the council resolution that endorsed the 2015 nuclear deal between six major powers and Iran, according to Trump administration officials and U.N. diplomats, who were not authorized to discuss the matter publicly and spoke on condition of anonymity.

The U.S. officials said the aim is to present the resolution for a vote in May when Estonia, a NATO member and close U.S. ally that is not party to the nuclear deal, holds the rotating presidency of the Security Council.

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The arms embargo was not a part of the landmark 2015 accord, but Iran has long sought its removal and its expiration was included in the council resolution as a reward for Iranian compliance with the agreement’s nuclear restrictions. Since Iran is admittedly no longer complying with several elements of the nuclear deal, according to the International Atomic Energy Agency, the administration believes it has a case to make that the embargo should not be lifted, the officials said.

Still, any attempt to extend the embargo will likely face stiff opposition from Russia and China, two veto-wielding permanent members of the Security Council who have argued it should be removed and want to resume arms sales to Iran. Russia has been more outspoken on the matter and has derided U.S. attempts to bring the matter up for discussion, criticizing President Donald Trump for withdrawing the U.S. from the nuclear deal in 2018 and re-imposing tough American sanctions on Iran.

Despite that opposition, which is almost certain to see the American effort fail, the U.S. officials said the administration is not planning at this point to raise the controversial matter of “snapback” – or restoring all U.N. sanctions against Iran that had been lifted or eased under the terms of the 2015 deal.

Although the administration pulled out from the deal two years ago, the U.S. maintains that it retains the right to invoke a sanctions snapback that the deal envisaged in the event of “significant non-performance” by Iran.

That position rests on a novel State Department legal argument that was first presented in December and asserts that although the U.S. is no longer in the nuclear deal, it remains an original “participant” under the terms of the Security Council resolution that enshrined it. That resolution does, in fact, list the parties to the 2015 agreement by name, but numerous diplomats have said the American argument is specious because the Trump administration has made such a point about no longer participating in the deal.

The U.S. risks sparking a diplomatic war and throwing the already damaged credibility of the Security Council into further jeopardy should it decide to invoke snapback because it is unlikely that either the Chinese or the Russians, and possibly other members, would go along with the re-imposition of U.N. sanctions or enforce them.

The Chinese, Russians and many other council members have lamented the impact that the unilateral U.S. sanctions have had on Iran, crippling its oil exports and badly damaging its economy.

And, although the U.S. sanctions include exemptions that allow Iran to import humanitarian goods, critics have complained that they are hurting Iran’s ability to combat the coronavirus pandemic by discouraging companies and banks from doing business with Iran out of fear they will be hit with American penalties.

___

Lee reported from Washington

Kim Jong-un could be isolated due to coronavirus fears, say South Korean officials

Kim Jong-un could be isolated due to coronavirus fears, say South Korean officials

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In this undated file photo provided by the North Korean government on April 12, 2020, North Korean leader Kim Jong-un inspects an air defense unit in the western area of North Korea. Kim Jong-un’s two-week absence from public view has … more >

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By Lauren Meier

The Washington Times

Tuesday, April 28, 2020

It is possible that North Korean leader Kim Jong-un has been out of public sight in an effort to protect himself against the coronavirus, South Korean officials said Tuesday.

Reports that Mr. Kim could be gravely ill after undergoing cardiovascular surgery have surged since April 15, following his surprising absence from festivities that day celebrating the birthday of his grandfather Kim Il-sung, founder of the family’s communist dynasty and dictatorship.

“It is true that he had never missed the anniversary for Kim Il-sung’s birthday since he took power, but many anniversary events including celebrations and a banquet had been canceled because of coronavirus concerns,” South Korean Unification Minister Kim Yeon-chul said during a parliament hearing.

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Officials in South Korea have repeatedly cautioned against reports that Mr. Kim is ill and say they have not seen new or unusual movements within the isolated country.

U.S. and regional intelligence sources over the weekend rejected speculative international media reports regarding Mr. Kim’s health condition, including a rising number that claim he is dead.

The unification minister cautioned that it would not be “particularly unusual” for the 36-year-old to remain isolated amid the coronavirus pandemic, which experts have warned could hit North Korea particularly hard.

However, North Korea has not reported any confirmed cases of COVID-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus, despite its shared border with China.

A look at past disappearances of North Korean leaders, officials

A look at past disappearances of North Korean leaders, officials

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In this May 21, 1987, file photo, then North Korean President Kim Il-sung, center, and then Chinese Premier Zhao Ziyang make their way through a crowd of well-wishers at the train station in Beijing. North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s … more >

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By Kim Tong-hyung

Associated Press

Tuesday, April 28, 2020

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — While Kim Jong-un’s two-week absence has inspired speculation and rumors that he is gravely ill, he is not the first member of North Korean’s ruling elite to disappear from public view.

Some absences were caused by real trouble, including deaths, illness or purges. But frequently the so-called disappearances have simply shown the disconnect between insatiable curiosity about what’s happening inside the isolated, nuclear-armed nation and the thick cloak of secrecy surrounding its leadership.

A look at past cases of missing North Korean officials and when reports about the demise of leaders were premature:

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___

KIM IL-SUNG

Before his death in 1994, there was arguably no person South Koreans hated and feared more than North Korea’s state founder Kim Il-sung. His forces launched a surprise attack on the South in June 1950, triggering a devastating war that drew massive intervention by the United States and China and killed and injured millions of people before an armistice halted fighting three years later.

He also dispatched commandos in a failed attempt to assassinate the South Korean president in 1968 and sent agents to plant bombs that killed 21 people, including several South Korean cabinet ministers, during a presidential visit to Myanmar in 1983.

When South Korean newspapers reported him as dead in November 1986, the public, at least for a few hours, was overwhelmed with euphoria but also panic about instability on the border.

The reports began circulating on Nov. 16 when the Chosun Ilbo published a short story by its Tokyo correspondent who reported rumors in Japan that Kim Il Sung had died. Things took a strange turn the next day when South Korea’s military spokesman announced that the North Koreans used loudspeakers on the mine-strewn border to announce that he was shot to death.

Chosun released an extra edition to report the story on Nov. 17 – a Monday when newspapers hadn’t usually published – before using seven pages to describe Kim Il Sung’s assassination on Nov. 18, under the now infamous front-page headline “Kim Il Sung shot dead.”

Other newspapers wrote similar stories, adding to a frenzy that abruptly ended hours later when Kim Il Sung appeared alive and well at an airport in Pyongyang, North Korea’s capital, to greet a visiting Mongolian delegation.

Chosun, South Korea’s biggest newspaper by circulation, never published a correction. But it formally apologized over the story last month while marking the 100th anniversary of its founding.

The newspaper also apologized over a 2013 report that said North Korean singer and senior ruling party member Hyon Song Wol had been executed. Hyon reappeared in public in May 2014 and is now considered as one of the most powerful women in North Korea, accompanying Kim Jong Un to several international summits.

___

KIM JONG-IL

Kim Jong-il, the famously reclusive father of the current ruler, also was the subject of countless reports and rumors about his demise.

In 2004, a massive explosion at a North Korean train station on its border with China inspired rumors of an assassination attempt as he had passed through hours earlier on his way back from Beijing. The collision of two fuel-carrying trains reportedly killed and injured thousands of people, but a link to the leader’s travel was never confirmed.

Chatter about Kim Jong-il’s death following his 2008 stroke became so frequent that it prompted South Korea’s financial regulator in 2009 to investigate whether the rumors were being deliberately spread to manipulate stock markets.

When Kim Jong Il did die in December 2011, following years of deteriorating health and diminishing public appearances, the outside world had no clue until the North’s state media announced it two days later.

His once-powerful sister, Kim Kyong-hui, has had her own share of premature reports about her death. CNN on May 2015 cited a North Korean defector to report that Kim Jong Un had her poisoned to death. The 73-year-old made her first public appearance in about six years in January, sitting near her nephew during a concert.

___

KIM JONG-UN

Conflicting reports over the past week have said Kim is either “gravely ill,” “in a vegetative state” or “perfectly fine” following heart surgery that may or may not have happened.

In 2014, Kim vanished from the public eye for nearly six weeks before reappearing with a cane. South Korea’s spy agency said he had a cyst removed from his ankle.

In 2016, South Korean media quoted intelligence officials as saying Kim had had a former military chief executed for corruption and other charges. But months later, North Korea’s state media showed Ri Yong Gil alive and serving in new senior posts.

Kim Jong-un was last seen in public on April 11 when he presided over a ruling party meeting on coronavirus prevention. He even missed the April 15 birthday celebration for his late grandfather Kim Il Sung for the first time since taking power in 2011. State media have since reported his engagement in routine, but non-public activities. They say he’s sent greetings to the leaders of Syria, Cuba and South Africa and expressed gratitude to citizens of merit, including workers building tourist facilities in the coastal town of Wonsan, which is where some speculate he is staying.

While it’s possible that Kim could pop up anytime, continuing a family tradition of media resurrections, some experts say that his health will become an increasing factor in years ahead, considering his weight, smoking habits and other supposed health problems.

South Korea not ready to declare victory in coronavirus fight

South Korea not ready to declare victory in coronavirus fight

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A buddhist believer hangs a paper note wishing to overcome the COVID-19 outbreak at the Chogyesa temple in South Korea. The country has been winning high praise for its massive mitigation response to flatten the coronavirus infection curve. (ASSOCIATED PRESS) more >

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By Madison Hirneisen

The Washington Times

Sunday, April 26, 2020

South Korean health officials say the world has a lot of learn from how the country contained a vicious early outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, but told a Washington audience last week South Korea itself has a long way to go before even thinking about declaring victory.

Initially one of the hardest-hit epicenters of coronavirus infection, Seoul has been winning high praise for its massive mitigation response to flatten the infection curve and a testing and tracking regimen to identify and contain new outbreaks.

What once was a rate of infection that reached more than 900 confirmed cases on a single day has now plummeted in a matter of weeks to a daily infection rate in the single digits. On April 23, the nation saw just eight new confirmed cases, and just 89 across the country in previous seven days.

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Despite reporting its first cases in early February, South Korea has recorded just 10,708 confirmed cases nationwide, with 8,501 recovered patients. Just 240 deaths — in a nation of 51 million people — are attributed to the virus, fewer than the number in U.S. states such as North Carolina and Wisconsin.

In a teleconference hosted by George Washington University Thursday, Director-General of the Republic of Korea’s Ministry of Science International Cooperation Bureau Hee-Kwon Jung cited the government’s focus on expansive testing, experimental treatment and advanced data collection as key factors in diminishing the virus’ spread soon after it peaked in late February.

“In the case of Korea, test kits [were] a very important factor in how to handle this COVID-19,” Mr. Jung said. “Because COVID-19 is an unknown virus, it was very important how quickly we developed the test kits.”

South Korean researchers began developing possible test prototypes before the virus was confirmed in the nation in mid-January, with the government of President Moon Jae-in fast-tracking the regulatory process for approvals.

Using artificial intelligence techniques, South Korean companies were able to mass-produce effective tests in a matter of weeks. These tests, Mr. Jung said, can detect COVID-19 infection in “a matter of seconds,” allowing doctors to test thousands of patients each day with results in real-time.

The Korean government also instituted a tracking system through a “self-quarantine safety app,” which allowed residents to monitor their own symptoms and self-isolate if necessary. Those who tested positive for the virus were asked to share information about their recent whereabouts, aided by cell phone GPS tracking and credit card transactions.

These details enabled the Korean Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to issue alerts to the public about possible places of exposure while keeping the identity of those infected anonymous.

After weeks of self-isolation, residents in Seoul South Korea flocked to crowded cafes and picnicked in public parks Saturday, all while wearing face masks and practicing social distancing. This picture of outdoor festivities and crowds is in stark contrast with cities in the US and Europe, where strict lockdowns have turned once bustling cities into ghost towns.

Moran Ki, a professor in the Department of Cancer Control and Population Health at South Korea’s National Cancer Center, said officials learned a harsh lesson about the importance of preparedness from a previous outbreak in the peninsula.

After the Middle Eastern Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) outbreak of 2015, South Korean’s public health commissioner ordered a review of all systems should a future epidemic threaten the nation again. These changes, Ms. Ki said, shifted the capacity of the national health system to handle an outbreak of large proportion.

Ms. Ki says the South Korean virus “preparedness” was not perfect, but the expanded capacity — especially the ability to treat patients of varying severity in different facilities — contributed to the nation’s low mortality rate, which is hovering around 2%.

“I think in other countries if their goal is to decrease case fatality rate, at first, they should prepare separation based on the severity of the patient,” Ms. Ki said.

Although South Korea’s virus count has significantly curbed since February, Ms. Ki says experts are proceeding with caution.

Ms. Ki said residents of the Korean peninsula should not expect life to ever fully return to “normal.”

“I think we cannot go back to the before-COVID-19 era,” Ms. Ki said. “I think we have to live with COVID-19 forever, so we have to change our lifestyle and our work style and our health system to live with the virus.”

China sends team of medical experts to advise on condition of North Korea’s Kim Jong-un: Report

China sends team of medical experts to advise on Kim Jong-un’s condition: Report

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In this April 27, 2018, file photo, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un signs a guestbook next to his sister Kim Yo Jong, right, inside the Peace House at the border village of Panmunjom in Demilitarized Zone. (Korea Summit Press … more >

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By Lauren Meier

The Washington Times

Saturday, April 25, 2020

China on Friday sent a team of experts, including several medical professionals, to North Korea to provide guidance on the health condition of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un.

Reports surfaced last week that the secretive Mr. Kim was gravely ill following emergency heart surgery.

The Chinese delegation, led by a senior member of China’s International Liaison Department, the agency that handles relations with their southeast neighbor, left for North Korea on Thursday, Reuters reported, citing sources familiar with the trip.

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Speculation of Mr. Kim’s condition has mounted since his surgery.

A senior official told South Korea’s Yonhap news agency last week the report was simply “not true,” and Kang Min-seok, a spokesman for South Korean President Moon Jae-in, said there had been “no unusual signs have been identified inside North Korea.”

Trump administration officials have said only that Washington continues to monitor the reports, while analysts noted that speculation tends to swirl about North Korea because of its notoriously authoritarian controls on information — especially regarding the ruling Kim family.

Officials and experts alike have cautioned the health of the 36-year-old North Korean leader, who is known to have prior medical conditions, could be precarious.

The South Korean internet news outlet Daily NK, which focuses on news about North Korea, first reported that Mr. Kim had undergone surgery at Hyangsan Medical Center, said to be an exclusive hospital for the Kim family. The surgery was performed by a team of the country’s top doctors, who had traveled to Pyongyang for the procedure, the outlet said, citing only an unnamed source inside North Korea.

Trump: U.S. administered 5 million COVID-19 tests, more than other countries

Trump: U.S. administered 5 million COVID-19 tests, more than other countries

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President Donald Trump speaks after signing a coronavirus aid package to direct funds to small businesses, hospitals, and testing, in the Oval Office of the White House, Friday, April 24, 2020, in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci) more >

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By Alex Swoyer

The Washington Times

Saturday, April 25, 2020

President Trump shared a tweet Saturday from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, telling people to go to their medical provider if they think they need to be tested for COVID-19, touting the number of tests administered thus far.

He said the nation has passed five million tests, more than any other country.

“Many testing sites are, and have been, open & available. Just passed 5 Million Tests, far more than any other country in the world. In fact, more than all other major countries combined! Don’t believe the Fake News!” the president tweeted Saturday.

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He also shared another tweet from the CDC, warning people to read the labels on disinfectants before using them after the president faced blowback for suggesting disinfectant and sunlight should be studied for medical use in treating COVID-19 patients.

Media pundits criticized the president for suggesting disinfectants could be used to treat people sick with the coronavirus.

B-1 zooms through Pacific to remind U.S. foes of ‘lethal’ force, test crews’ rapid response skills

B-1 zooms through Pacific to remind U.S. foes of ‘lethal’ force, test crews’ rapid response skills

Gen. Tim Ray: 'We can provide overwhelming force anywhere, anytime'

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AIR FORCE – B-1B Lancer is a four-engine supersonic variable-sweep wing, jet-powered heavy strategic bomber used by the United States Air Force (USAF). It was first envisioned in the 1960s as asupersonic bomber with Mach 2 speed, and sufficient range … more >

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By Douglas Ernst

The Washington Times

Friday, April 24, 2020

The Air Force’s iconic B-1B Lancer returned to the Pacific for the first time since 2018 to send a message to America’s adversaries while also testing crews’ response to sudden deployments.

Gen. Charles “CQ” Brown Jr., head of Pacific Air Forces and U.S. Indo-Pacific Command, discussed the exercise — a 30-hour round-trip flight to Japan that originated at Ellsworth Air Force Base, South Dakota — on Friday.

“From confronting invisible threats of a global pandemic to addressing military aggression and coercive activities, we remain a lethal, innovative and interoperable force focused on a shared vision of upholding a free and open lndo-Pacific,” he said in a press release, Military.com reported.

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The 28th Bomb Wing’s “Dynamic Force Employment” skills testing also required six U.S. Air Force F-16 Fighting Falcons, seven Japan Air Self Defense Force F-2s and eight JASDF F-15s over Draughon Range near Misawa, the website added.

Gen. Tim Ray, head of Air Force Global Strike Command, echoed Gen. Brown Jr.’s message.

“This mission is a demonstration to our friends throughout the region: We will continue to remain fully predictable in our commitment to ensuring peace, while also demonstrating that we have the ability to operate from numerous locations across the globe, even during the global pandemic,” Gen. Ray said.

Correction: Ellsworth Air Force Base is located in South Dakota.