US citizen’s trial pending
Former US ambassador to the UN Bill Richardson delivered a letter for an imprisoned US citizen to officials in North Korea during his trip there this week. Richardson was unable to meet with Korean-American Kenneth Bae, a 44-year-old tourist who was detained in North Korea late last year, but he said he was able to give a letter from Bae’s son to the authorities. “I delivered the letter to North Korean officials,” Richardson told reporters on Friday. “They said they would provide that to him.” Bae has been charged with unspecified crimes against the state. Richardson said in Beijing on Thursday that he was told judicial proceedings against Bae would start soon. Richardson made the trip to North Korea along with Google executive chairman Eric Schmidt, who said the purpose of his visit was to discuss a free and open Internet. The timing of the trip was criticized by the US State Department.
Beijing-based artist Liu Yi is working on a series of black-and-white portraits he knows will never be shown in a Chinese gallery. His varied subjects — men and women, young and old, smiling and pensive — have one thing in common: They are Tibetans who have set themselves on fire to protest repressive Chinese rule. Liu wants to paint a portrait of each of the hundred-or-so Tibetans who have self-immolated over the past three years, as a way of bearing witness to one of the biggest waves of fiery protests in recent history. With each brushstroke, Liu is making a heartfelt plea: The burning must end. “When I’m painting, I’m thinking: ‘Enough, enough, don’t do this anymore. Stop,’” said the artist, who has completed 40 paintings so far.
President to keep firearms
Philippine President Benigno Aquino III may continue to carry a gun despite an impending ban on bearing firearms in the run-up to polls, an election official said yesterday. Gun ownership is a sensitive topic in the Philippines, where calls are growing for tighter controls or an outright ban in the aftermath of a series of shootings starting on New Year’s Eve which have left 23 people dead. The ruling by the official Commission on Elections exempted Aquino, a gun enthusiast and competitive shooter, on the basis that he is constitutionally the head of the military. “We have exempted the members of the Armed Forces of the Philippines and since the president is the commander-in-chief of the armed forces, then by necessary implication [the exemption] covers the president,” commission official Emil Maranon said. The ban, which takes effect today and will be in place for six months, is intended to minimize violence ahead of local and congressional elections in May.
Helicopter crash disputed
Kachin ethnic rebels battling the army in northern Myanmar say they have shot down a government helicopter, but the army says it crashed due to engine failure. An e-mailed announcement from the Kachin guerrillas says they shot down the helicopter on Friday as heavy fighting raged. A senior government official citing military sources said yesterday that an Mi-35 helicopter crashed in Kachin-controlled territory due to engine failure. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he is not authorized to divulge military information. The Kachin have long sought greater autonomy. Intermittent fighting escalated last month when the rebels rejected a government demand that they allow supply convoys to reach an army base.