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North Korean leader inspects new tactical missile system

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Seoul, May 15 (IANS) North Korean leader Kim Jong-un has inspected a new tactical missile weapons system and called for an “epochal change” in war preparations by attaining arms production plans, state media said on Wednesday.

Kim oversaw the “tactical missile weapons system to be newly equipped by the combined missile units of the Korean People’s Army (KPA) in charge of an important firing assignment” on Tuesday, according to the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA).

It did not provide further details on the new system or where the inspection took place, reports Yonhap News Agency.

Kim expressed “great satisfaction” about the production performance of the manufacturing sites in the first half, the KCNA said.

–IANS

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Container ship Dali that brought down Baltimore bridge moved from crash site

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Baltimore, May 20 (IANS) Container ship ‘Dali’ that brought down the Francis Scott Key (FSK) Bridge in Baltimore on March 26 was re-floated on Monday for the first time in nearly eight weeks.

“The M/V DALI became buoyant at roughly 6:40 a.m. As of 7:00 a.m., it is currently being moved by tugboats under favourable environmental conditions,” the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE), Baltimore District, posted on X late on Monday evening (India time).

As Dali began transiting, USACE added that the FSK Bridge was visible for the first time without the vessel in several weeks.

The 20 Indian members of the crew of Dali still remain on board the vessel, more than 50 days after the early morning maritime accident in the last week of March that claimed the lives of six men who were working on the bridge at the time.

Dali hit a pillar of the 50-year-old bridge that served thousands of motorists every day.

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The collision brought the bridge and blocked the passage of all cargo ships waiting to be on their way after Dali.

The FBI has launched a criminal inquiry into the incident apart from separate probes that are underway by National Transportation Safety Board and the Coast Guard’s Marine Board of Investigation.

–IANS

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Israel plans to expand Rafah operation despite US concerns

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Tel Aviv, May 20 (IANS/DPA) Israel intends to expand its military operation in Rafah in the south of the Gaza Strip to defeat Hamas and to free the hostages the militant organisation is still holding, despite US concerns, Defence Minister Yoav Gallant said on Monday.

Gallant was speaking during a meeting with US National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan in Tel Aviv, according to Israeli radio. Israeli Chief of the Defence Staff Herzi Halevi also attended the meeting.

Gallant’s office said he had briefed Sullivan “on developments in the war against the Hamas terrorist organisation in Gaza, as well as the various efforts made to ensure the return of 128 hostages held by Hamas.”

Gallant also presented humanitarian aid plans for the population of the Gaza Strip. “This includes significant efforts to evacuate the civilian population in Rafah, facilitating the provision of humanitarian services, and operating in a precise manner to avoid harm to uninvolved civilians,” the statement said.

The tensions on Israel’s border with Lebanon were also discussed. Gallant accused the Lebanese Hezbollah militia of refusing to reach a diplomatic agreement on the withdrawal of its fighters from the border area, risking “a significant escalation.”

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Sullivan had earlier repeated that the United States continued to reject a wide scale offensive in the overcrowded city of Rafah in talks with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Isaac Herzog in Jerusalem on Sunday.

According to the White House, Sullivan nevertheless showed understanding for Israeli efforts to locate Hamas leaders in the Gaza Strip.

The White House statement said that Sullivan had reaffirmed “the need for Israel to connect its military operations to a political strategy that can ensure the lasting defeat of Hamas, the release of all the hostages, and a better future for Gaza.”

According to estimates from the United Nations, around 800,000 Palestinians have fled Rafah since the start of the operation two weeks ago. Many of them are refugees from other parts of the Gaza Strip who had sought refuge in its southernmost point.

The White House said that Sullivan had provided information on discussions with Egypt to secure its border with Rafah and to secure the continued flow of humanitarian assistance through the Kerem Shalom crossing from Israel into the southern Gaza Strip.

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Kerem Shalom has become key to supplying humanitarian aid following the closure of the Rafah crossing by Israeli forces at the start of the month. Hamas has recently attacked the crossing and Israeli settlements with rockets.

According to media reports, Egypt has indicated it will not coordinate aid transports through Rafah until the Israeli forces withdraw. Talks on reopening the crossing are reported to be continuing.

Following his talks with Sullivan in Jerusalem, Netanyahu posted on the X messaging service that the continuation of the war in Gaza, with an emphasis on Rafah, were discussed, along with “increasing the humanitarian effort in the Strip.”

According to the White House, Sullivan and the Israelis discussed ways of ensuring that humanitarian workers could safely deliver aid to those in need and establish fixed corridors inside Gaza to ensure aid is able to reach all those in need.

Aid has also been arriving by sea at a temporary pier constructed off the Gazan coast by the US Navy.

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Reflecting a rise in tensions within the Israeli government, Gallant has demanded the creation of a political alternative to Hamas in the Gaza Strip.

Benny Gantz, a fellow cabinet member, threatened over the weekend to resign if a plan was not in place by June 8 to set up a civilian administration to run the Gaza Strip.

Israeli military operations continued in other parts of the Gaza Strip. The Hamas-controlled health authority reported the deaths on Sunday of at least 24 Palestinians in the Nuseirat refugee camp in the centre of the Gaza Strip.

The Israeli army confirmed that a senior Hamas police officer had been killed in a targeted attack and that another Hamas commander and five activists had been killed in a separate attack in Nuseirat.

Tunnels on the border to Egypt had also been discovered and destroyed.

–IANS/DPA

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Julian Assange wins UK High Court victory in case against extradition to US

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London, May 20 (IANS) WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange on Monday won a victory in his ongoing battle against extradition from the United Kingdom (UK) to the United States after the High Court in London granted him permission to appeal.

Assange had been granted permission to appeal only if the U.S. government was unable to provide the court with suitable assurances that Assange is permitted to rely on the First Amendment (free speech) for protections, reports Xinhua News Agency.

The U.S. government had to assure that Assange, who is Australian, shall not be prejudiced at trial by reason of his nationality and is afforded the same protections as a U.S. citizen.

The U.S. side also had to provide assurance that Assange would not be sentenced to death if convicted.

Assange’s legal team criticized the assurances provided by the U.S. government at the hearing, arguing that “based on the principle of the separation of powers, the U.S. court can and will apply U.S. law, whatever the executive may say or do.”

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Most of the assurances were “blatantly inadequate,” said Edward Fitzgerald KC, representing Assange. But the legal team had accepted the promise about the death penalty.

The lawyer said in written submissions that while the assurance over the death penalty was “an unambiguous executive promise,” the other assurance does not give “any reliable promise as to future action.”

According to Assange’s legal team, it could be months before the new appeal is heard.

The latest move came after the High Court deferred a decision in March on whether Assange could take his case to another appeal hearing.

Assange, 52, is wanted by the United States on allegations of disclosing national defense information following WikiLeaks’s publication of hundreds of thousands of leaked military documents relating to the Afghanistan and Iraq wars a decade ago, which included an Apache helicopter video footage documenting the U.S. military gunning down journalists and children in Baghdad’s streets in 2007.

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He has been held at southeast London’s high-security Belmarsh Prison since 2019. The UK approved his extradition to the United States in 2022 under then Home Secretary Priti Patel after a judge initially blocked it on Assange’s mental health concerns. Assange and his lawyers have appealed since then.

–IANS

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Lankan government to introduce two bills to bolster economy

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Colombo, May 20 (IANS) The Sri Lankan government will introduce two significant bills aimed at bolstering the country’s economy to parliament on Wednesday, a minister said on Monday.

The “Economic Transformation Bill” and the “Public Financial Management Bill” are designed to enhance public finance management and safeguard against future economic downturns, State Minister of Finance Shehan Semasinghe told a press conference.

Semasinghe said it is necessary to maintain optimal levels of public financial management to avert future economic crises, and the bills are aligned with recommendations from a collaborative program with the International Monetary Fund, reports Xinhua News Agency.

He said the legislation encompasses reforms essential for international trade, trade agreements, and climate change mitigation efforts.

In 2022, Sri Lanka’s public debt ratio stood at 128 per cent, a figure slated to be reduced to less than 95 per cent by 2032, said Semasinghe.

Similarly, the fiscal requirement, which was 34.6 per cent of gross domestic product in 2022, aims to be lowered to below 13 per cent by 2032, according to the minister.

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–IANS

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Israel blasts ICC chief prosecutor over Gaza war arrest warrants

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Tel Aviv, May 20 (IANS/DPA) Israeli Foreign Minister Israel Katz has sharply criticised the request for arrest warrants against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defence Minister Yoav Gallant by the Chief Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC).

Katz spoke of a “scandalous decision” on Monday, which he said represents “an unrestrained frontal assault on the victims of October 7th and our 128 hostages in Gaza.”

“While Hamas murderers and rapists commit crimes against humanity against our brothers and sisters, the Prosecutor mentions in the same breath the Prime Minister and Defence Minister of Israel alongside the vile Nazi-like monsters of Hamas – a historical disgrace that will be remembered forever,” Katz was quoted as saying by his office.

He said he wanted to speak to the foreign ministers of leading states so that they would oppose the prosecutor’s decision “and declare that even if warrants are issued, they do not intend to enforce them against Israeli leaders.”

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ICC Chief Prosecutor Karim Khan is prosecuting crimes committed during the Gaza war. He also requested warrants for Yehya al-Sinwar, the leader of Hamas in Gaza, along with Mohammed Diab Ibrahim al-Masri, the head of the group’s military wing, and Ismail Haniyeh, who sits atop Hamas’ political bureau and is seen as the group’s overall leader.

Around 1,200 people were killed and more than 250 taken hostage in the Gaza Strip during the Hamas attacks in the Israeli border area on October 7. The unprecedented attack was the trigger for Israel’s military offensive in the Gaza Strip, in which more than 35,500 people are said to have been killed so far.

–IANS/DPA

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