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Seoul detects suspected signs of North Korean preparations for spy satellite launch

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Seoul, May 24 (IANS) South Korea’s military has detected suspected signs of North Korea making preparations to launch a military spy satellite, an official said on Friday.

In December, Pyongyang vowed to launch three more spy satellites this year, a month after successfully placing its first one into orbit, Yonhap News Agency reported.

South Korea’s Defence Minister Shin Won-sik told reporters earlier this year that the North’s Malligyong-1 spy satellite appears to be orbiting Earth without activity.

“As apparent signs of preparations for the launch of North Korea’s purported military spy satellite have recently been detected in the Tongchang-ri area, South Korean and U.S. intelligence authorities are closely monitoring and tracking related activities,” the Joint Chiefs of Staff official said.

The North staged all three of its launches last year from its satellite launch station in Tongchang-ri in the northwestern province of North Pyongan.

While the military has continuously detected activities of personnel, vehicles and equipment at the launch site, they have apparently grown larger in scale recently, reports Yonhap News Agency.

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Equipment used to measure and assess the launch trajectory of a space rocket is said to have been detected at the site.

The military has currently strengthened surveillance and monitoring of the area, with preparations being made to intercept the North’s launch vehicle if it enters South Korean airspace, the official said.

If the North presses ahead with a launch, it is expected to notify Japan of its schedule as it did prior to all three of its satellite launches last year.

The suspected preparations come as the leaders of South Korea, China and Japan will hold a trilateral summit in Seoul on Monday for the first time in 4 1/2 years, spawning speculation the North could time the launch to coincide with the meeting to maximize its political impact.

South Korea, the United States and others have condemned the North’s space rocket launches, calling them violations of U.N. Security Council resolutions banning it from ballistic missile launches, as they use the same technologies.

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–IANS

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India calls for universal condemnation of countries providing arms to terrorists

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United Nations, June 20 (IANS) Warning about the increased sophistication of small arms and the use of drones to get them to terrorists, India has called for universal condemnation of countries providing weapons to terrorists.

“The increase in volume and the quality of the arsenal acquired by these terrorist organisations reminds us time and again that they cannot exist without the sponsorship or support of States,” R. Ravindra, the Charge d’Affaires of India’s UN Mission, said.

“This aspect needs to be unequivocally condemned,” he said on Tuesday at the UN Conference reviewing the progress of the programme against illicit small arms. He did not name any country arming terrorists, but Pakistan is principally behind the flow of weapons to terrorists operating against India.

“For several decades, my country has suffered immensely due to cross-border terrorism and violence carried out by terrorist groups using these illicit weapons smuggled across our borders, including now through the use of drones,” Ravindra said.

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“India views illicit possession and misuse of small arms and light weapons by non-state groups and terrorists as a violation of state sovereignty,” he said.

Under-Secretary-General Izumi Nakamitsu, speaking earlier, mentioned the dangers of terrorists getting small arms.

“There is nothing ‘small’ or ‘light’ about the damage these weapons cause,” she said. “They aggravate crime, displacement and terrorism.”

She warned: “The situation is growing worse, as new developments in the manufacturing, technology and design of small arms — such as 3D printing — make their illegal production and trafficking easier than ever before.”

Nakamitsu noted that the New Agenda for Peace proposed last year by Secretary-General Antonio Guterres “calls for regional efforts across borders to stem the flow and trafficking of small arms and light weapons”.

Ravindra proposed a novel programme, Regional 911, bringing together countries in a region to dismantle arms trafficking, and improve tracking and security of small and light weapons to keep them out of the reach of “wrong hands”. He spoke of the scourge of the illicit trade and the transfer of small and light arms in vulnerable areas.

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“In post-conflict situations, we often witness that non-State actors continue to possess these weapons illegally, which hinders disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration efforts,” he said.

“India maintains strict export controls over all munitions and related items, including small arms and light weapons,” he said.

He offered to share the nation’s expertise with countries New Delhi, he noted, is a member of the Wassenaar Arrangement, an international pact against the illegal transfer of arms and dual-use items. (Pakistan and China are not participants in it).

India has also signed all the thirteen counter-terrorism conventions and has ratified the UN Convention on Transnational Organised Crime and its Protocol on Firearms, he added.

(Arul Louis can be contacted at arul.l@ians.in and followed at @arulouis)

–IANS

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Despite China’s criticism, US delegation meets Dalai Lama, pushes for Tibet's autonomy

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Dharamsala, June 19 (IANS) In a significant show of diplomatic power politics, a high-level bipartisan delegation from the US, comprising ex-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and others, met Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama at the latter’s residence here despite criticism by China.

This move signals a potential escalation in diplomatic tensions as the US lawmakers asserted their stance on global human rights issues, pushing for the autonomy of Tibet within China.

“His Holiness Dalai Lama will live a long time and his legacy will live forever, but to you President of China, you will be gone and nobody will give you credit for anything,” said Pelosi, a long-time supporter of the Tibetan cause, while accusing China of not doing justice with Tibet.

Pelosi’s visit exemplifies solidarity and a commitment to global human rights, challenging Chinese policies.

Holding a copy of the Resolve Tibet Act, a bipartisan Bill to enhance US support for Tibet and promote dialogue between China and the Dalai Lama towards a peaceful resolution of the long-standing dispute, the Dalai Lama said, “The issue of Tibet is an issue of justice. It is not about a religious or political cause, but about the rights of the people to preserve their culture, language, and identity. The Tibetan struggle is a struggle for human rights and dignity.”

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The copy of the Resolve Tibet Act was presented by the Congressional delegation led by Chairman Michael McCaul, Nicole Malliotakis, Gregory W Meeks, Jim McGovern, Ami Bera, and Mariannette Miller-Meeks, besides Pelosi, who were seen waving American and Tibetan flags.

The bipartisan delegation flew into Dharamsala on Tuesday to meet the 88-year-old Nobel peace laureate and other top officials of the Tibetan government-in-exile.

Central Tibetan Administration (CTA) President Penpa Tsering said, “Grateful for your instrumental leadership in sponsoring and ensuring the passage of the Resolve Tibet Act in the US Congress. We are just one step away from this becoming a law, which will significantly add value to the middle-way policy advocated by His Holiness the Dalai Lama and the CTA.”

At the felicitation ceremony, Republican representative McCaul said the Bill reaffirms America’s support for the Tibetan right to self-determination.

“Just this week our delegation received a letter from the Chinese Communist Party, warning us not to come here… But we did not let the CCP (Chinese Communist Party) intimidate us for we are here today,” McCaul said.

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Beijing, which considers the Dalai Lama a ‘separatist’, had said that it was seriously concerned about the visit of the US lawmakers to Dharamsala.

The US delegation visit came a day ahead of a planned trip by the Dalai Lama to the US to undergo medical treatment for his knees. However, his office told IANS that there will be no public engagement, including public audiences, of the Dalai Lama during the visit.

The Dalai Lama has been living in self-imposed exile in India since fleeing his homeland in 1959.

–IANS

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US restates North Korea-Russia cooperation trend of 'great concern' after Kim-Putin summit

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Washington, June 19 (IANS) The United States reiterated on Wednesday that growing cooperation between Russia and North Korea is a trend of “great concern”, after Pyongyang and Moscow signed a pact calling for mutual aid if either side comes under attack.

A State Department spokesperson made the point after Russian President Vladimir Putin and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un inked a “comprehensive strategic partnership” treaty at a summit in Pyongyang on Wednesday (Korea time) amid concerns about the security implications of their military ties.

“Deepening cooperation between Russia and the DPRK is a trend that should be of great concern to anyone interested in maintaining peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula, upholding the global non-proliferation regime, abiding by U.N. Security Council resolutions, and supporting the people of Ukraine as they defend their freedom and independence against Russia’s brutal invasion,” the spokesperson told Yonhap News Agency via email.

“As we have said before, we don’t believe any country should give Mr. Putin a platform to promote his war of aggression against Ukraine,” the official added.

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The spokesperson also stressed that Russia is “blatantly violating the U.N. Charter and working to undermine the international system.”

“We cannot turn a blind eye to the clear violations of international law Russia has committed in Ukraine,” the spokesperson said, reported Yonhap News Agency.

A Pentagon official gave a cautious response, saying that it is aware of the reports on the summit between Putin and Kim.

“We’ve seen the reports and will continue to monitor the situation,” the official said in response to a question from Yonhap News Agency. “We have nothing further to offer right now.”

The Pyongyang summit came amid deepening concerns that military cooperation between Pyongyang and Moscow would help prop up Russia’s war effort in Ukraine and advance North Korea’s weapons programs to the detriment of regional and global security.

–IANS

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Dozens die in extreme Haj heat, toll feared to be in hundreds

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Beirut, June 19 (IANS/DPA) Dozens of Muslims have died during the annual Haj pilgrimage in Mecca, Saudi Arabia this year due to heat-related medical issues amid scorching temperatures, according to figures released by several countries.

Tunisia’s state news agency TAP reported on Wednesday that at least 35 Tunisian pilgrims had died, while Iran’s semi-official Tasnim agency said 11 Iranian citizens were also among the dead. Senegal confirmed three of its citizens had died.

Jordan’s Foreign Ministry said on Tuesday that 41 Jordanian pilgrims had lost their lives, meaning the total death toll stands at least at 90.

There are fears the number is far higher. Unconfirmed reports circulating on Wednesday said that hundreds of Egyptians had died. But neither Egyptian officials nor Egypt’s state media have commented.

Saudi Arabia has also not given any figures.

Muslims from around the world started the Haj pilgrimage in Saudi Arabia on Friday. Saudi Arabia expected around two million people.

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The temperature in Mecca and other holy sites in the surrounding area hovered around 50 degrees Celsius through Tuesday’s final pilgrimage day.

Authorities called on participants to carry parasols, avoid being outside during the particularly hot midday hours and drink plenty of water.

The Haj, one of the five pillars of Islam, is a mandatory duty for all Muslims to make once in a lifetime – if they are physically capable of undertaking the journey to the birthplace of the prophet Mohammed and have the financial resources.

Men wear seamless white clothes and women wear loose garments as they perform the same rituals in a demonstration of religious unity, equality and pursuit of spiritual renewal.

–IANS/DPA

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Open letter to Germany Chancellor Scholz decries outsourcing asylum

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Berlin, June 19 (IANS/DPA) More than 300 advocacy groups and international organisations have written an open letter to German Chancellor Olaf Scholz opposing the possibility of holding asylum seekers in third countries for processing.

“Please issue a clear rejection of plans to outsource asylum procedures,” the authors demanded in the letter published on Wednesday.

The signatories include Amnesty International Germany, Medecins Sans Frontieres (Doctors Without Borders), and the migrant advocacy group Pro Asyl.

The open letter was released ahead of Scholz’s meeting with the leaders of Germany’s 16 states in Berlin on Thursday, where the issue is expected to be a major topic.

Germany’s Interior Ministry is currently examining the possibility of outsourcing asylum proceedings to third countries outside the European Union.

State-level interior ministers also begin convening on Wednesday evening for three days of talks which are expected to be dominated with talk of migration policy, asylum and deportations. They are meeting in Potsdam, a Berlin suburb.

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The killing of a policeman by a knife-wielding migrant in late May in the German city of Mannheim has prompted renewed debate about whether Germany should deport people convicted of serious crimes to countries like Syria and Afghanistan.

The authors of the open letter warn that serious human rights abuses are foreseeable if asylum proceedings are outsourced to countries outside the EU. They argue that receiving asylum-seekers and integrating them into society can work smoothly with greater cooperation.

“Plans to deport refugees to non-European third countries or to carry out asylum procedures outside the EU, on the other hand, do not work in practice, are extremely expensive and pose a threat to the rule of law,” the letter stated.

According to the authors, the current debate about the plan in both Germany and other EU countries is already having an impact.

“Such plans often cause great fear among refugees and increase the risk of self-harm and suicide,” according to the letter.

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Scholz announced plans to resume deportations to those countries after the Mannheim attack, despite concerns from advocates about the human rights abuses there. Vice Chancellor Robert Habeck, a Green, spoke out in favour of that on Wednesday as well.

–IANS/DPA

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