North’s defense boss sacked
North Korean leader Kim Jong-un has replaced his defense chief with a hawkish general in a shakeup apparently aimed at tightening his grip over the military, Yonhap News Agency said yesterday. Vice Marshal Kim Jong-gak was sacked as defense minister after just seven months in office, Yonhap quoted an unnamed presidential official in Seoul as saying. He was replaced by Kim Kyok-sik, who is believed to have orchestrated the North’s sinking of one of the South’s warships and an artillery attack on a border island in 2010, it said.
Chinese ships a concern
The government is still asking China to withdraw three ships from a disputed shoal in the South China Sea almost six months after it promised to pull out, Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario said yesterday. Del Rosario said that while Manila withdrew its own ships from the Scarborough Shoal — known as Huangyan Island (黃岩島) in Taiwan, which also claims it — on June 4, as agreed by both countries, China’s three government ships remained in the area. “They have three ships in the vicinity right now. They have never really left. We are continuing to ask them to honor our sovereignty and ... we are asking them to pull out their ships as agreed upon,” he said. He said that in June a Chinese embassy official initially said the weather was too rough for their ships to move but did not say when they would leave.
‘Red Shirt’ trial postponed
A court yesterday postponed till next month the start of the terrorism trial of 24 leaders of the Red Shirt protests that rocked Bangkok in 2010, because one of the defendants was ill. The accused, who include five lawmakers, could in theory face the death penalty for their roles in the rallies. The judge postponed the first hearing until Dec. 13 because a lawyer for Red Shirt militant leader Arisman Pongreungrong said his client could not attend the trial due to food poisoning. The defendants have pleaded not guilty to terrorism charges.
Doctor on hunger strike
The doctor who helped the CIA hunt down former al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden started a hunger strike in his jail cell this week to protest against his living conditions, prison officials said yesterday. Shakil Afridi was sentenced in May to 33 years in jail for his links to a banned militant group. Prison officials in Peshawar said they are keeping Afridi in solitary confinement and will not allow him to have visitors nor speak to anyone by telephone as punishment for a media interview he gave in September. “After the interview in which Dr Shakil Afridi leveled serious allegations against the country’s top spy agency, the prison authorities barred his family members and lawyers from meeting him,” an official said.
Kosovo’s ex-PM aquitted
The UN Yugoslav war crimes court yesterday acquitted Kosovo’s former prime minister Ramush Haradinaj and two aides in a retrial on charges of murder and torture during the 1990s war of independence from Belgrade. “The chamber finds you not guilty on all counts in the indictment,” Judge Bakone Justice Moloto told the court in The Hague, ordering the men released. Judges found that the accused had not taken part in a “joint criminal enterprise” to cleanse the area of ethnic Serbs, and that some witness testimony was unreliable.
Minister denies drug bribe
Secretary of Public Safety Genaro Garcia Luna has denied taking bribes from an alleged top drug trafficker who said in a letter to a major newspaper that he had paid off the official since 2002. The letter from indicted drug lord Edgar Valdez Villarreal was published by the Reforma newspaper on its front page. The move “aims to inhibit the actions of authorities against criminal organizations,” Ministry of Public Security spokesman Jose Ramon Salinas said. Villarreal “has sought to blackmail authorities in order to obtain privileges” at the federal maximum security prison where he awaits a verdict on homicide charges.
High-profile graft case ends
The Supreme Court on Wednesday sentenced the last three of 25 defendants convicted on charges involving a congressional cash-for-votes scheme, bringing to an end a high-profile corruption trial that has riveted the country for nearly four months. The court sentenced a former congressman, a former leader of the governing Workers’ Party and a former treasurer of the Brazilian Labor Party on charges of money laundering, embezzlement and passive corruption. The alleged corruption dates back to the government of former president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, who was not charged.
Obama to dine with Romney
President Barack Obama was to host his former political rival Mitt Romney for a private lunch at the White House yesterday, their first meeting since the election. Obama promised in his victory speech earlier this month to engage with Romney following their bitter campaign and consider the Republican’s ideas. Obama aides said they reached out to Romney’s team shortly before Thanksgiving to start working on a date for the meeting. White House spokesman Jay Carney said Obama was looking forward to a “useful discussion,” but said there was no agenda for the lunch.
Jackpot sparks lottery fever
Early yesterday morning, officials confirmed that two Powerball winning tickets had been sold: one in Arizona and one in Missouri. A lottery official late on Wednesday said that the jackpot increased to US$579.9 million by the time of the drawing, making the cash option US$379.8 million. The prize is the second-largest potential lottery payout in the country’s history. Tickets were selling at an average of 130,000 a minute across the nation in the hours before the drawing, said Chuck Strutt, executive director of the Multi-State Lottery Association. That equates to players spending US$15.6 million an hour on 7.8 million tickets.
Anti-Shiite bombs kill 28
Bombs in two majority Shiite Muslim cities in the south of the country killed 28 people yesterday near a restaurant in the city of Hilla, 100km south of Baghdad, police and hospital sources said. Scores more were wounded in the blasts, which struck during a month that is of special significance to Shiite Muslims. Blood, shoes, body parts and wristwatches were scattered around the site of the blast and grieving women pounded their faces and chests, searching for relatives who might have been hurt. “Shame on the officials who are just sitting in their offices while explosions hit the city every day,” Khalidi said. In the predominantly Shiite city of Kerbala, a car bomb near a bus terminal where pilgrims gather killed two people, a spokesman for the local health office said.