Prepare for possible ‘war’, N’Korea’s Kim orders military amidst US alleged threat

North Korean leader, Kim Jong Un wrapped the year with fresh threats of a nuclear attack on Seoul and orders for a military arsenal build-up to prepare for a war that can “break out at any time” on the peninsula, state media reported Sunday.

Kim lambasted the United States during a lengthy speech at the end of five days of year-end party meetings that set his country’s military, political, and economic policy decisions for 2024.

The meeting announced plans for further military development in the coming year, including launching three more spy satellites, building unmanned drones and developing electronic warfare capabilities, as well as strengthening nuclear and missile forces, according to the official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA).

Pyongyang this year successfully launched a reconnaissance satellite, enshrined its status as a nuclear power in its constitution, and test-fired the most advanced intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) in its arsenal.

At the meeting that ended Saturday, Kim accused the United States of posing “various types of military threat” and ordered his armed forces to maintain “overwhelming war response capability”, according to KCNA.

It is a “fait accompli that a war can break out at any time on the Korean peninsula due to reckless moves by the enemies to invade us”, Kim said.

In an effort to deter Pyongyang, Washington earlier this month deployed a nuclear-powered submarine in the South Korean port city of Busan, and flew its long-range bombers in drills with Seoul and Tokyo.

The North has previously described the deployment of Washington’s strategic weapons — such as B-52 bombers — in joint drills on the Korean peninsula as the “intentional nuclear war provocative moves”.

“We must respond quickly to a possible nuclear crisis and continue to accelerate preparations to pacify the entire territory of South Korea by mobilising all physical means and forces, including nuclear force, in case of emergency,” Kim said.

– ‘Uncontrollable crisis situation’ –

At the meeting, Kim said he would no longer seek reconciliation and reunification with South Korea, noting the “persisting uncontrollable crisis situation” which he said was triggered by Seoul and Washington.

Inter-Korean relations have deteriorated to a low point this year, with Pyongyang’s spy satellite launch prompting Seoul to partially suspend a 2018 military agreement aimed at defusing tensions.

“I believe that it is a mistake that we should no longer make to consider the people who declare us as the ‘main enemy’… as a counterpart for reconciliation and unification,” KCNA cited Kim as saying.

Kim ordered the drawing-up of measures for reorganising departments handling cross-border affairs, to “fundamentally shift the direction”.

Leif Easley, a professor of international relations at Ewha University in Seoul, said the emphasis on North Korea’s “significant military capabilities” was likely aimed at hiding the country’s poor economic achievements this year.

“Much of what state-controlled media publishes is recycled propaganda,” he said, adding: “Pyongyang’s bellicose rhetoric suggests its military moves are not only about deterrence but also domestic politics and international coercion.”

Pyongyang declared itself an “irreversible” nuclear power last year and has repeatedly said it will never give up its nukes programme, which the regime views as essential for its survival.

The United Nations Security Council has adopted many resolutions calling on North Korea to halt its nuclear and ballistic missile programmes since it first conducted a nuclear test in 2006.

(AFP)

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US Supreme Court disqualifies Donald Trump from presidency for his involvement in Jan. 6, 2021 capitol riot

The Colorado Supreme Court ruled Tuesday that former President Donald Trump is disqualified from holding the presidency under the Constitution’s so-called insurrection clause and ordered the secretary of state to exclude his name from the state’s Republican presidential primary ballot.

The landmark decision from the divided Colorado Supreme Court that Trump cannot hold public office under the Civil War-era provision is unprecedented, and it marks the first time a court has found him to be ineligible to return to the White House due to his conduct surrounding the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol. Never before has a court determined that a presidential candidate is disqualified under the clause, Section 3 of the 14th Amendment.

Asked about the Colorado Supreme Court’s ruling on Wednesday, President Biden told reporters it is up to the court to determine the application of Section 3, but said there’s “no question” Trump supported an insurrection. 

The ruling does not apply outside of Colorado, and the state high court, whose justices were all appointed by Democratic governors, paused its decision until Jan. 4 — one day before the deadline for Colorado Secretary of State Jena Griswold to certify the candidates for the state’s March 5 primary. 

“We conclude that because President Trump is disqualified from holding the office of President under Section Three, it would be a wrongful act under the Election Code for the Secretary to list President Trump as a candidate on the presidential primary ballot,” the court’s majority wrote in an unsigned opinion. “Therefore, the Secretary may not list President Trump’s name on the 2024 presidential primary ballot, nor may she count any write-in votes cast for him.”

Lawsuits challenging Trump’s candidacy have been filed in more than 25 states ahead of the 2024 election, though the Colorado case brought on behalf of six voters marks the most immediate threat to his campaign. National polls show Trump atop the field of candidates vying for the Republican presidential nomination.

Trump will appeal the decision to the U.S. Supreme Court, a spokesman for his campaign said, setting up a high-stakes showdown over his eligibility to run just as voters in early states begin casting their ballots in the Republican primaries. In pausing its decision, the Colorado Supreme Court said that if review to the nation’s highest court is sought before Jan. 4, its stay will remain in place, and the secretary will be required to list Trump on the 2024 primary ballot until the U.S. Supreme Court rules.

“The Colorado Supreme Court issued a completely flawed decision tonight and we will swiftly file an appeal to the United States Supreme Court and a concurrent request for a stay of this deeply undemocratic decision,” Steve Cheung, spokesman for the Trump campaign, said in a statement. “We have full confidence that the U.S. Supreme Court will quickly rule in our favor and finally put an end to these unAmerican lawsuits.”

The seven-member Colorado Supreme Court divided 4-3 on the ruling, with its majority reversing the trial court’s finding as to the scope of Section 3 to conclude that it encompasses the office of the presidency and one who has taken an oath as president.

“President Trump asks us to hold that Section Three disqualifies every oathbreaking insurrectionist except the most powerful one and that it bars oath-breakers from virtually every office, both state and federal, except the highest one in the land,” the majority wrote. “Both results are inconsistent with the plain language and history of Section Three.”

Griswold, in an interview Wednesday on CBS News’ “America Decides,” said, “There shouldn’t be a loophole for the president if the president decides to engage in insurrection or rebellion.” 

“Donald Trump incited the insurrection. He tried to stop the peaceful transfer of the presidency, trying to steal the presidential election from the American people,” Griswold said. “Section 3 of the 14th Amendment has clear language. So I do believe the Colorado Supreme Court got it right. But unlike Donald Trump, I will follow whatever court decision is in place, the law, the U.S. Constitution, when it comes time to certify the election.” 

She pushed back on the argument that the decision is antidemocratic and disenfranchises voters. 

“It’s ironic because Donald Trump literally tried to steal the presidency. That is the only reason that this case moved forward, because of his actions,” she said. 

Noah Bookbinder, president of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, which brought the lawsuit in Colorado, praised the decision and said the group will work to ensure that it remains in place.

“The court’s decision today affirms what our clients alleged in this lawsuit: that Donald Trump is an insurrectionist who disqualified himself from office under Section 3 of the 14th Amendment based on his role in the January 6th attack on the Capitol, and that Secretary Griswold must keep him off of Colorado’s primary ballot. It is not only historic and justified, but is necessary to protect the future of democracy in our country,” he said in a statement.

The case adds to the ongoing legal issues facing Trump and his presidential campaign, including a criminal case related to the 2020 presidential election that is set to go to trial in March if allowed to move forward.

Section 3 of the 14th Amendment

The Colorado case hinged on whether Section 3 bars Trump from the nation’s highest office. The provision aims to prevent those who swore an oath to support the Constitution and engaged in insurrection from holding state or federal office.

Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington filed the lawsuit in Colorado state court on behalf of four Republican voters and two unaffiliated voters in September, arguing that Trump’s actions related to the Jan. 6 assault disqualified him under Section 3. Dozens of suits filed across the country have raised the same argument, though several have already been dismissed by state courts.

In November, a trial court in Denver found that the events on Jan. 6 satisfy the definition of insurrection, and concluded that Trump engaged in insurrection through incitement. Judge Sarah B. Wallace ultimately determined that the language of Section 3 is unclear as to whether it covered the presidency and the former president, and ordered Griswold to list Trump on the GOP presidential primary ballot.

The Colorado Supreme Court agreed to review the district court’s ruling, and held arguments in the case earlier this month. The justices weighed whether the events of Jan. 6 could be considered an “insurrection,” and, if so, one that Trump “engaged in.” They also considered whether the president is an “officer of the United States” under Section 3.

In their ruling, the four justices in the majority acknowledged that “we travel in uncharted territory, and that this case presents several issues of first impression.”

“We do not reach these conclusions lightly. We are mindful of the magnitude and weight of the questions now before us,” the majority wrote. “We are likewise mindful of our solemn duty to apply the law, without fear or favor, and without being swayed by public reaction to the decisions that the law mandates we reach.”

The justices rejected claims from Trump’s lawyers that the breach of the Capitol by his supporters on Jan. 6 was not an insurrection and instead concluded that the record in the case “amply established that the events of January 6 constituted a concerted and public use of force or threat of force by a group of people to hinder or prevent the U.S. government from taking the actions necessary to accomplish the peaceful transfer of power in this country.”

In determining that Trump engaged in insurrection, the Colorado high court said there is “substantial evidence” that the former president was “laying the groundwork for a claim that the election was rigged” before the November presidential contest.

Trump, the majority said, “continued to fan the flames of his supporters’ ire, which he had ignited” by making false claims about the integrity of the election on social media and in a speech outside the White House on Jan. 6.

“President Trump’s direct and express efforts, over several months, exhorting his supporters to march to the Capitol to prevent what he falsely characterized as an alleged fraud on the people of this country were indisputably overt and voluntary,” the justices wrote. “Moreover, the evidence amply showed that President Trump undertook all these actions to aid and further a common unlawful purpose that he himself conceived and set in motion: prevent Congress from certifying the 2020 presidential election and stop the peaceful transfer of power.”

The high court found that Trump “did not merely incite the insurrection,” but “continued to support it” by continuing to urge then-Vice President Mike Pence to unilaterally toss out state Electoral College votes.

“These actions constituted overt, voluntary, and direct participation in the insurrection,” the majority wrote.

Justices Richard Gabriel, Melissa Hart, Monica Márquez and William Hood were in the majority, while Chief Justice Brian Boatright and Justices Carlos Samour and Maria Berkenkotter dissented.

In his dissent, Samour warned that because other states differ from Colorado in their election laws, Trump will likely be disqualified from the presidential primary ballot in less than all 50 states, “risking chaos in our country.”

“This can’t possibly be the outcome the framers intended,” he wrote.

Other legal challenges

Enacted in 1868, Section 3 of the 14th Amendment sought to keep former Confederate civil and military officeholders from serving in federal or state government, and was primarily invoked in the years after the Civil War. It has seldom been used in modern times, and never against a former president.

The Jan. 6 riot and allegations that Trump incited the attack, followed by his decision to seek a second term in the White House, led to lawsuits in more than half the states seeking to keep him off the ballots. 

In Michigan, a judge ruled in November in part that it is up to Congress to determine whether Trump is disqualified from holding public office. The state court of appeals affirmed the lower court’s ruling last week, finding that the secretary of state’s role in the presidential primary is “chiefly that of an administrator,” and it’s the political parties and candidates that determine who to place on the primary ballot.

“Even if Trump were disqualified from holding the office of President of the United States by the Insurrection Clause, nothing prevents the Michigan Republican Party from identifying him as a candidate in the upcoming primary election,” a three-judge appeals court panel concluded. Michigan voters challenging Trump’s candidacy have appealed to the state supreme court.

 In Minnesota, the state’s high court dismissed a lawsuit seeking to exclude Trump from the ballot for the Republican primary because it is an “internal party election to serve internal party purposes” and doesn’t automatically qualify the winner for the general election ballot.

The Minnesota Supreme Court said voters could, however, pursue their case regarding the general election ballot after the state’s March 5 primary.

Republicans rally behind Trump

The decision from the Colorado Supreme Court prompted widespread condemnation from Republicans, including his opponents in the race for the party’s presidential nomination.

Nikki Haley, who served as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations in the Trump administration, said in a town hall Tuesday evening in Agency, Iowa, that “we don’t need judges making these decisions. We need voters to make these decisions. So I want to see this in the hands of the voters.”

“The last thing we want is judges telling us who can and can’t be on the ballot,” she added.

Trump’s other major challenger in the Republican primary, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, did not address the ruling during a campaign event in Ankeny, Iowa, but later tweeted that “the Left invokes ‘democracy’ to justify its use of power, even if it means abusing judicial power to remove a candidate from the ballot based on spurious legal grounds. SCOTUS should reverse.”

Former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, the most vocal GOP critic of Trump in the race for the White House, said the former president has not been tried for inciting an insurrection and is entitled to due process.

“I do not believe Donald Trump should be prevented from being president of the United States by any court,” he said during an event in New Hampshire. “I think he should be prevented from being president of the United States by the voters of this country.”

Former Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson, who remains in the primary race, predicted that the court’s finding that Trump supported an insurrection “will haunt his candidacy.”

House Speaker Mike Johnson criticized the decision of the Colorado Supreme Court, calling it “nothing but a thinly veiled partisan attack.”

“Regardless of political affiliation, every citizen registered to vote should not be denied the right to support our former president and the individual who is the leader in every poll of the Republican primary,” he said in a post to social media. “We trust the U.S. Supreme Court will set aside this reckless decision and let the American people decide the next President of the United States.”

(CBSNEWS)

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Gaza death toll hits 20,000 as UN Security Council delays vote on aid

Palestinian sources claim that since Israel started bombing the territory more than ten weeks ago, at least 20,000 people have died in the Gaza Strip.

According to the Gaza Government Media Office, at least 8,000 children and 6,200 women were among the deceased on Wednesday.

The somber milestone was reached as the UN Security Council had to postpone a crucial vote on a proposal to increase humanitarian supplies for Gaza for a third time in order to withstand a veto from the US, which usually protects its partner Israel from UN action.

Since a seven-day truce collapsed on December 1, the war has entered a more intensive phase with ground combat previously confined to the northern half of the territory now spread across its length.

When asked about the ever-growing casualty count, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said it is “clear that the conflict will move and needs to move to a lower intensity phase”.

“We expect to see and want to see a shift to more targeted [Israeli] operations with a smaller number of forces that’s really focused in on dealing with the leadership of Hamas, the tunnel network and a few other critical things,” he said. “And as that happens, I think you’ll see as well the harm done to civilians also decrease significantly.”

Air strikes continued across Gaza on Wednesday with at least 46 people killed and dozens wounded in Israeli attacks on the Jabalia refugee camp in northern Gaza, according to the enclave’s Ministry of Health.

In Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip, where hundreds of thousand of people have been pushed since early December by Israel’s continued onslaught, air strikes hit a building near a hospital close to an Al Jazeera crew reporting live on air, killing at least 10 people.

“More air strikes are conducted, more victims fall due to the expansion of the Israeli military operations in the areas that are supposed to be safe zones where the majority of Gazans have been urged to flee,” Al Jazeera’s Tareq Abu Azzoum said in reporting from Rafah.

“The air strike took place in an area considered to be very densely populated, and it’s a miracle that no more than this number of people were killed,” he added.

The UN Security Council vote on a bid to boost aid to the Gaza Strip and ask the UN to monitor humanitarian aid deliveries there has been delayed at the request of the US, diplomats said.

According to the United Arab Emirates envoy to the UN, Lana Nusseibeh, the vote will take place on Thursday.

“Everyone wants to see a resolution that has impact and is implementable on the ground, and there are some discussions going on on how to make that possible,” Nusseibeh, whose country drafted the resolution, told reporters in New York.

The text aims to dilute Israel’s control over all humanitarian aid deliveries to the 2.3 million people of Gaza. The initial text has been reportedly modified to soften calls to end the fighting in Gaza to avoid yet another veto from the US.

“We want to make sure that the resolution … doesn’t do anything that could actually hurt the delivery of humanitarian assistance, make it more complicated. That’s what we’re focused on,” Blinken told reporters on Wednesday. “I hope we can get to a good place.”

Currently, Israel monitors the limited humanitarian aid and fuel deliveries to Gaza via the Rafah crossing from Egypt and the Israel-controlled Karem Abu Salem crossing, known as Kerem Shalom in Hebrew.

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US inmate declared innocent after spending 48 years in prison

A 71-year-old man has been proclaimed innocent in the US state of Oklahoma after serving almost 50 years in jail for a murder he did not commit.

According to The National Registry of Exonerations, Glynn Simmons, who is Black, spend longer years in prison before being exonerated than any other inmate in US history.

Simmons was released in July after serving a total of 48 years, one month, and 18 days in jail.

Simmons and another man, Don Roberts, were sentenced to death in 1975 for the murder the previous year of a 30-year-old liquor store clerk during a robbery in Edmond, Oklahoma.

Their sentences were later commuted to life in prison.

Simmons and Roberts were convicted solely on the basis of the testimony of a teenage customer who was shot in the head during the robbery but survived.

She picked them out of a police lineup but a subsequent investigation cast significant doubt on the reliability of her identifications.

Both men had also claimed at trial that they were not even in Oklahoma at the time of the murder.

US District Court Judge Amy Palumbo threw out Simmons’ conviction in July and declared him innocent at a hearing in Oklahoma County District Court on Tuesday.

“This is a day we’ve been waiting on for a long, long time,” Simmons told reporters. “We can say justice was done today, finally.”

Roberts, Simmons co-defendant, was released from prison in 2008, according to The National Registry of Exonerations.

Simmons may now be eligible for compensation.

“What’s been done can’t be undone but there could be accountability,” he said. “That’s what I’m about right now. Accountability.”

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Trump barred from Colorado presidential ballot over capitol attack role

The Colorado Supreme Court on Tuesday disqualified former President Donald Trump from the ballot in the state’s presidential election next year over his role in the January 6, 2021 attack on the U.S. Capitol by his supporters.

According to Reuters, the ruling makes Trump the first presidential candidate in U.S. history to be deemed ineligible for the White House under a rarely used provision of the U.S. Constitution that bars officials who have engaged in “insurrection or rebellion” from holding office.

The news agency added that the court concluded that the U.S. Constitution bars the frontrunner for the Republican nomination in 2024 from appearing on the ballot because of his role in instigating violence against the U.S. government.

The ruling applies only to the state’s March 5 Republican primary, but its conclusion would likely also affect Trump’s status for the Nov. 5 general election. Nonpartisan U.S. election forecasters view Colorado as safely Democratic, meaning that President Joe Biden will likely carry the state regardless of Trump’s fate.

The case was brought by a group of Colorado voters, aided by the group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, who argued that Trump should be disqualified for inciting his supporters to attack the Capitol in a failed attempt to obstruct the transfer of presidential power to Biden after the 2020 election.

Trump’s campaign called the court decision “flawed” and “undemocratic,” and said it would be appealed.

“The Colorado Supreme Court issued a completely flawed decision tonight and we will swiftly file an appeal to the United States Supreme Court and a concurrent request for a stay of this deeply undemocratic decision,” a spokesperson from the Trump campaign said.

Trump’s campaign has condemned 14th Amendment challenges as an attempt to deny millions of voters their preferred choice for president.

The decision is a victory for advocacy groups and anti-Trump voters who have mounted several similar legal challenges to Trump’s candidacy under section 3 of the 14th Amendment, which was enacted after the Civil War.

The decision reverses a ruling by a lower court judge who found Trump engaged in insurrection by inciting his supporters to violence, but, as president, Trump was not an “officer of the United States” who could be disqualified under the amendment.

A lawyer for Trump argued that the riot at the Capitol was not serious enough to qualify as an insurrection and that Trump’s remarks to his supporters in Washington that day were protected by his right to free speech. The lawyer contended that courts do not have the authority to order Trump removed from the ballot.

Advocates have hoped to use the case to boost a wider disqualification effort and potentially put the issue before the U.S. Supreme Court.

The U.S. Supreme Court’s 6-3 conservative majority includes three Trump appointees.

The Colorado court said the ruling is stayed until January 4, 2024, to allow for appeals.

“The court’s decision today affirms what our clients alleged in this lawsuit: that Donald Trump is an insurrectionist who disqualified himself from office under Section 3 of the 14th Amendment based on his role in the January 6th attack on the Capitol, and that Secretary Griswold must keep him off of Colorado’s primary ballot. It is not only historic and justified, but is necessary to protect the future of democracy in our country,” said CREW President, Noah Bookbinder.

(Punch)

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US anti-narcotics bureau, Nigeria police sign agreement on Special Intervention Squad

The United States Government’s Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs has signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the Nigeria Police Force concerning the operationalisation of the Special Intervention Squad.

The PUNCH reports that the Inspector General of Police, Olukayode Egbetokun, following his assumption of office in June 2023, declared the establishment of the SIS.

Formalising the agreement at the Force Headquarters on Monday, the IG noted that it was a joint initiative aimed at strengthening the capacity of the Nigeria Police Force to address emerging security challenges.

Egbetokun said, “We express our gratitude for the collaboration with the US Government. International partnerships, no doubt are important in addressing transnational crime and ensuring the overall safety and security of our dear country.”

Meanwhile, the NPF had earlier revealed that the deployment of 40,000 operatives of the Special Intervention Squad who are currently undergoing training, would begin with Katsina and nine other states.

The Force Headquarters also revealed that the proposed commanders that will be in charge of the squad will be trained in Mexico while noting that the deployment to the 10 carefully selected states is to pilot the activities of the SIS.

Egbetokun had earlier noted that the SIS would be a standby team of specially trained officers to quickly intervene in large insecurity occurrences, adding that it was part of the priority in his administration’s endeavour to combat the country’s threat of violent crime.

In June, The PUNCH reported that following the establishment of the 40,000-man Special Intervention Squad, IG Egbetokun announced plans to withdraw Police Mobile Force personnel from VIP escort/guard duties.

Egbetokun who spoke during a meeting with Squadron leaders and Tactical Commanders at the Force Headquarters, said the development was to allow the police to take back its place in the ‘internal security architecture’ of the country.

Meanwhile, while clarifying the misunderstanding in regards to the IG’s directive concerning the proposed withdrawal of the Police Mobile Force from specialised escort and services for VIPs, the spokesperson for the NPF, Olumuyiwa Adejobi noted that the NPF did not intend to strip VIPs (who are legally and statutorily entitled to police escorts) of their security details, noting that doing so would be unsafe and counterproductive.

He said, “Get the message right: We understand that there has been some misunderstanding regarding the directive of IG Olukayode Egbetokun about withdrawing members of the Police Mobile Force Unit from Specialised Escort and Services for VIPs. It’s crucial to provide clarifications to address this.

“First and foremost, let us be clear: at no point did the Force intend to strip VIPs (who are legally and statutorily entitled to Police escorts) of their security details. Doing so would be unsafe and counterproductive. Instead, the objective is to reassign the withdrawn PMF personnel to the recently established Special Intervention Squad.

“For those who genuinely require specialised police escorts, this vital service will continue to be provided by other units of the Force, such as the Special Protection Unit. However, individuals who do not fall within and enjoy the legal framework for such security details would strictly be screened and their applications thoroughly assessed for consideration, if necessary.

“To eliminate any misunderstandings, it’s crucial to clarify that the withdrawal of Police Mobile Force (PMF) personnel does not equate to a blanket ban on all Police Officers from providing VIP escort services. This withdrawal pertains specifically to PMF personnel, who are just one unit within the broader Police Force.

“We encourage everyone to read the full contents of our press statements rather than giving headlines whimsical meanings and spreading distorted information. For a comprehensive understanding of this matter, we strongly recommend referring to our press releases dated June 29, 2023, July 10, 2023, and July 24, 2023. These statements provide a clear and accurate perspective on this directive.”

(Punch)

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US F-16 fighter jet crashes in S. Korea during training

A US F-16 fighter jet crashed on Monday, in South Korea during a training exercise.

The pilot was rescued after making an emergency escape, Yonhap news agency reported.

“The jet crashed into the waters after taking off from an air base in Gunsan, 178 kilometers south of Seoul,” the agency reported, referring to waters in the Yellow Sea.

The pilot ejected from the jet and was rescued, Yonhap reported.

South Korea’s defence ministry declined to comment.

United States Forces Korea, which oversees American soldiers based in the South, was not immediately available to confirm the report.

In May, a US F-16 jet crashed during a routine training exercise in a farming area south of Seoul. The pilot ejected safely and the accident caused no other casualties.

Washington is Seoul’s key security ally and stations about 28,500 troops in South Korea to help protect it from the nuclear-armed North.

In neighbouring Japan, the US military announced last week that it was grounding its fleet of V-22 Osprey tilt-rotor aircraft following a deadly crash that killed eight US airmen.

(AFP)

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US Ivy League varsity president resigns over anti-Semitism allegation

The president of an Ivy League university stepped down on Saturday in the wake of a firestorm of criticism after a congressional hearing on the rise of anti-Semitism on US campuses.

The University of Pennsylvania President Elizabeth Magill “voluntarily tendered her resignation,” the chair of the university’s board of trustees Scott Bok announced.

Bok also stepped down himself, a university spokesman confirmed to AFP.

Magill was among three presidents of elite universities who faced withering criticism following their testimony Tuesday during a congressional hearing on campus anti-Semitism.

The trio gave long, legalistic and seemingly evasive answers at the hearing when asked whether students who call for the “genocide of Jews” on their campuses violate codes of student conduct.

The blowback was rapid and intense.

Seventy-four lawmakers wrote letters demanding the immediate removal of Magill and the presidents of Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

The trio gave long, legalistic and seemingly evasive answers at the hearing when asked whether students who call for the “genocide of Jews” on their campuses violate codes of student conduct.

The blowback was rapid and intense.

Seventy-four lawmakers wrote letters demanding the immediate removal of Magill and the presidents of Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

When Stefanik heard similar answers from the others, she erupted: “It does not depend on the context. The answer is yes, and this is why you should resign.”

Harvard’s president, Claudine Gay, apologised afterward for failing to more strongly condemn threats of anti-Semitic violence on her campus.

“When words amplify distress and pain, I don’t know how you could feel anything but regret,” Gay later told the Harvard Crimson newspaper.

Bok, who helms the University of Pennsylvania’s board of trustees a body that handles major governance issues said Magill made “a very unfortunate misstep” as he announced her departure, student newspaper The Daily Pennsylvanian reported.

“She was not herself last Tuesday,” Bok said in a statement published by the school paper.

“Over prepared and over lawyered given the hostile forum and high stakes, she provided a legalistic answer to a moral question, and that was wrong.”

“It made for a dreadful 30-second sound bite in what was more than five hours of testimony.”

He said his resignation was “effective immediately.”

Board vice chair Julie Platt replaces him temporarily, the executive committee announced Saturday night.

In Bok’s note to the campus, he said Magill would stay in her post until an interim president is appointed and would remain on the faculty of the university’s law school.

With Magill gone, Stefanik turned her sights on Harvard and MIT, tagging both schools in a post on X, formerly Twitter.

“Do the right thing,” she said. “The world is watching.”

Anti-Semitism and hate crimes targeting Jewish and Muslim people have risen in the United States and on university campuses since the October 7 attack on Israel by Hamas militants and the ensuing war in Gaza.

With passions inflamed on campuses, a broader debate has taken place about the boundaries between freedom of speech and deeply offensive, even inflammatory language.

(AFP)

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Three killed in Las Vegas university shooting

Three people were killed and another seriously injured by a gunman who was shot dead by police at a US university on Wednesday.

The incident at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, a short distance from the gambling hub’s tourist-packed Strip, was the latest in the United States, where gun violence is a part of the fabric of daily life.

“Three of the victims are confirmed deceased,” Las Vegas Sheriff Kevin McMahill told a press conference.

He said a fourth victim had been critically injured by the shooting but that condition later upgraded to stable.

The identity of the shooter was not immediately released, but CNN and the Los Angeles Times, quoting law enforcement sources, said he was a 67 year old career college professor with links to schools in Georgia and North Carolina. But it was not clear what affiliation he had with the Nevada university where the shooting took place.

US President Joe Biden in a statement decried the latest “horrific act of gun violence” to terrorize a college campus.

Police responded within minutes to reports of an active shooter at 11:45 am (1945 GMT), McMahill told a press conference.

Two officers “immediately engaged the suspect in a shootout” and the suspect “was struck and is deceased at this time,” said university police chief Adam Garcia.

The incident began as an outdoor gathering of students was taking place.

“Students were playing games and eating food, there were tables set up for them to build Legos,” said McMahill.

“If it hadn’t been for the heroic actions of one of those police officers who responded, there could have been countless additional lives taken.”

Police did not provide any further information on the identities of the victims or gunman, and are in the process of notifying next-of-kin.

 ⁠’Loud booms’ –
One woman told local broadcaster KVVU that she had heard a series of loud noises and fled into a building on the campus, from which she was later evacuated by police.

“I was just having breakfast and then I heard three, like, loud booms,” she told the station.

“Then two more, and then police showed up there and ran inside… but then after two minutes boom, boom, boom, more shots. So I ran into a basement, and then we were in the basement for 20 minutes.”

Officers were continuing to search the campus, which will remain closed through Friday, but “there is no more ongoing threat to our community,” the sheriff said.

Las Vegas is a gambling and entertainment hub that attracts millions of visitors every year, many of whom come to see large, high-profile events.

Last month, the city played host to its inaugural Formula One Grand Prix. It is currently hosting basketball’s NBA Cup at the T-Mobile arena, just two miles (three kilometers) away from the scene of the shooting.

Los Angeles Lakers star LeBron James sent condolences to affected families during a press conference Wednesday, in which he also voiced anger about the grim regularity of mass shootings.

“It makes no sense that we continue to lose innocent lives, on campuses, schools, at shopping markets and movie theaters and all type of stuff. It’s ridiculous,” he said.

 ⁠’Not normal’ –
Mass shootings are common in the United States, a country where there are more guns than people, and where attempts to clamp down on their spread are always met with stiff resistance.

The country has recorded over 600 mass shootings this year, according to the Gun Violence Archive, a nongovernmental organization that defines a mass shooting as four or more people wounded or killed.

The Washington Post, which keeps its own tally of mass shootings, said that as of Monday, there had been 38 such incidents in which at least four people had been killed.

Las Vegas was the scene of one of America’s deadliest-ever mass shootings, when a gunman opened fire on a crowded music festival in 2017, killing 60 people.

Efforts to tighten gun controls have for years run up against opposition from Republicans, staunch defenders of what they interpret as an unfettered constitutional right to weaponry.

The political paralysis endures despite widespread outrage over recurrent shootings.

“This is not normal, and we can never let it become normal,” said Biden.

“For all the action we have taken since I’ve been President, the epidemic of gun violence we face demands that we do even more. But we cannot do more without Congress.”

(AFP)

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Israel, Hamas in talk over ceasefire, hostage release as death toll hits 15,000

Hopes mounted on Tuesday that Hamas could release dozens of hostages from war-torn Gaza after the militant group’s leader and key mediator Qatar said a truce deal was in sight and the Israeli premier pointed to “progress.”

The announcements are the most optimistic yet of a potential breakthrough in the conflict, which has been raging for more than six weeks and left thousands dead on both sides.

“We are close to reaching a deal on a truce,” Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh said, according to a statement sent by his office to AFP.

In Qatar, foreign ministry spokesman Majed Al-Ansari said, “We’re very optimistic, very hopeful” and told reporters: “We are at the closest point we ever had been in reaching an agreement.”

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has vowed to destroy Hamas, was more circumspect, telling soldiers at a military base only that “we are making progress” on the return of hostages.

“I hope there will be good news soon,” he added, with speculation that an announcement could be made as soon as Tuesday evening after his office announced meetings of his war and security cabinets and government.

In Washington, United States President Joe Biden, who does not support a full ceasefire, said a temporary truce was “now very close”.

“We could bring some of these hostages home very soon,” he said at the White House. “But I don’t want to get into the details of things because nothing is done until it’s done.”

The BRICS group of nations including Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa on Tuesday called for an “immediate, durable, and sustained humanitarian truce leading to a cessation of hostilities” in Gaza, during a summit in Johannesburg aimed at drawing up a common response to the conflict.

Deaths hit 15,000

Despite talk of a temporary truce, fighting raged on in Gaza’s bloodiest-ever war, sparked by the October 7 attack in which Israel says Hamas gunmen killed around 1,200 people, mostly civilians.

In retaliation, Israel launched a relentless bombing campaign and ground offensive in the Gaza Strip. According to the Hamas government, the war has killed more than 14,100 people, including nearly 6,000 children and close to 4,000 women, AFP reported.

S’Africa may shut Israeli embassy

South African lawmakers voted on Tuesday in favour of closing down the Israeli embassy in Pretoria and suspending all diplomatic relations until a ceasefire is agreed in its war with Palestinian terror group Hamas in Gaza.

The Jerusalem Post in a report, crediting Reuters, gathered the resolution was largely symbolic as it would be up to President Cyril Ramaphosa’s government whether to implement it; a presidency spokesperson did not immediately respond to a Reuters request for comment.

But Ramaphosa and senior foreign ministry officials have been vocally critical of Israel’s leadership during its devastating military campaign against Hamas in the densely populated Gaza Strip, calling on the International Criminal Court to investigate them for potential war crimes.

The report said the Israeli embassy did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

On Monday, the Israeli ambassador in Pretoria was recalled to Tel Aviv for consultations ahead of the vote, which on Tuesday was resoundingly adopted by a 248-91 margin.

(Punch)

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