North’s calls rejected
South Korea’s Ministry of Unification yesterday scoffed at the North’s proposal for a moratorium on verbal mud-slinging between the two rivals and rejected Pyongyang’s renewed calls to scrap joint military drills with the US. The annual joint exercises — which the North routinely condemns as provocative rehearsals for invasion — will go ahead as scheduled from the end of next month, ministry spokesman Kim Eui-do told reporters. “We don’t slander North Korea, so there is nothing for us to stop,” Kim said. If the North truly wants to foster peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula, it should stop complaining about the “legitimate” military drills and focus on taking steps to abandon its nuclear weapons program, he added.
Protest rules tightened
Pro-government lawmakers on Thursday pushed sweeping legislation through parliament in an apparent bid to suppress protests against President Viktor Yanukovych. The opposition, which has been spearheading nearly two months of rallies against Yanukovych over his decision to ditch a key pact with the EU, branded the vote “a power grab.” According to the new legislation backed by 235 out of 450 lawmakers, a blockade of public buildings would be punishable by up to five years in prison. The legislation also simplified a procedure to prosecute lawmakers, and protesters wearing masks or helmets will face a fine or an administrative arrest. Dissemination of slander on the Internet was also banned and would be punishable by a fine or corrective labor of up to one year. Last month, hundreds of thousands took to the streets in the capital, Kiev, and western Ukraine after Yanukovych decided to scrap key political and trade agreements with the EU.
Poultry culling starts
The nation yesterday started culling thousands of poultry after a preliminary test indicated the first possible outbreak of bird flu since 2011, officials said. A suspected case of avian influenza was reported on Thursday at a poultry farm in Gochang in North Jeolla Province, about 300km southwest of Seoul, the agricultural ministry said. Local authorities had begun culling all of the more than 20,000 ducks on the farm, it said. Quarantine measures were also enforced at 24 other farms in four provinces that were known to have purchased ducks from the Gochang farm. Further testing from Gochang was under way, but the ministry said it was “highly likely” it would be confirmed as H5N1 avian flu. The last outbreak in the nation occurred in 2011, when more than 6 million poultry were culled at more than 280 farms across the country.
Four Canadians arrested
Four Canadians have been arrested for allegedly trafficking illegal drugs from Mexico, a National Bureau of Investigation official said on Thursday. Anti-Organized and Transnational Crime Division chief Rommell Vallejo said the suspects have alleged links to a Mexican cartel and are undercutting Chinese traffickers who dominate the local market and this could trigger a drug war. The suspects were arrested on Wednesday in separate raids on three posh condominiums in Manila, Vallejo said. He said agents seized enough cocaine, methamphetamine and MDMA, also known as ecstasy, from one of the condominiums to fill at least three suitcases. The wife of one of the suspects is also in custody. Vallejo said they face possible life imprisonment if convicted.