North rethinking reunions
Pyongyang yesterday said it may reconsider plans to hold reunions between families in the North and the South if Washington and Seoul push ahead with planned annual military drills. In a rare confidence building move, the two Koreas agreed on Wednesday to allow families to meet for five days later this month for the first time since 2010. “At the time, when the agreement was made on reunions of separated families and relatives at Panmunjom, a formation of the US B-52 strategic bombers were carrying out nuclear strike practices all day, aiming us,” the North’s National Defense Commission policy department spokesman said on state-run TV. The South’s defense ministry said the joint drills would go ahead, and reiterated Seoul and Washington’s position that the exercises and the family reunions should not be linked.
Second bird flu death
The nation has recorded its second death from bird flu this year, a health official said yesterday. A 60-year-old woman from southern Dong Thap Province died on Jan. 28 and tested positive for the H5N1 virus the following day, provincial medical department director Nguyen Ngoc An said. It follows the death of a 52-year-old man from the southern Binh Phuoc Province on Jan. 18. Demand for poultry tends to increase at the end of January, as families celebrate the Tet Lunar New Year festival.
Amnesty slams executions
Amnesty International yesterday said the nation was preparing to put a condemned man to death and called on the government to halt “yet another secretive execution.” The London-based human rights group said in a statement it had learned from relatives of the man that he is to be executed today for a murder committed more than a decade ago. It identified him only by the name “Chandran.” However, HINDRAF, a group that advocates for the rights of the ethnic Indian minority, said his name was Chandran Paskaran. HINDRAF also called for him to be spared. The government does not announce executions and is generally tight-lipped about its application of the death penalty.
Over 1,000 migrants saved
The navy has rescued more than 1,100 migrants from nine large rafts in the waters south of Sicily, the latest arrivals from North Africa. Patrol helicopters identified the overcrowded rafts on Wednesday and four navy vessels participated in the rescue, which ended early yesterday, a statement said. The navy gave no details about the nationalities of the migrants. Italy is a major gateway into Europe for migrants, and sea arrivals more than tripled last year from the previous year, fueled by Syria’s civil war and strife in the Horn of Africa.
Bullet sent to house speaker
Postal workers in Milan intercepted on Wednesday a threatening letter containing a bullet addressed to the lower house speaker after a fierce fallout in parliament over a controversial financial decree. The anonymous letter contained a handwritten note saying the authors knew where Speaker Laura Boldrini lived and threatened to throw acid in her face, media reports said, adding it was signed with a five-point star. Police said the author was unknown. Investigators said they ruled out the hand of the Red Brigades, a notorious extremist group formed in the 1970s, which used a five-point star logo.
Lawmakers pass Web bill