Defense nominee quits
In a fresh blow to President Park Geun-hye, her nominee for defense minister stepped down yesterday. Ever since his nomination, Kim Byung-kwan, a retired four-star general, has been dogged by allegations of wrongdoing related to his recent stint working as a broker for an arms trading firm. More recently, allegations surfaced regarding hidden stock assets in a Myanmar natural gas company. “As of now, I am resigning as defense minister nominee for the smooth management of state affairs,” Kim said in a statement. “I wish the present security crisis will be successfully overcome and our national defense becomes stronger.” Park accepted Kim’s decision and asked the incumbent defense minister to extend his term, citing public anxiety over North Korea, her spokeswoman said.
Yakuza boss convicted
A “one-eyed” gangster, the No. 2 man in the nation’s biggest yakuza crime organization, was convicted of extortion yesterday in a high-profile victory for anti-mob police. Kiyoshi “Mekkachi” Takayama, 65, who reputedly lost the use of his eye in a swordfight early in his career, was jailed for six years. His underworld nickname of “Mekkachi” means “one-eyed” in the dialect of western Japan. Takayama is second in command of the Yamaguchi-gumi, a vast organized crime syndicate that had 27,700 members at the end of last year, according to the National Police Agency. He had been on ￥1.5 billion (US$15.7 million) bail for treatment of an illness since June last year. He had denied extorting ￥40 million from a construction company with the help of an affiliated gang boss, reports have said. However, presiding judge Akihiro Ogura told the court: “The constructor’s testimony that he had been the victim of extortion by the defendant is credible.”
Italian marines set for trial
Two Italian marines flew back to New Dehli yesterday to face murder charges, after Rome dramatically reversed a decision that they would not return which had triggered a diplomatic firestorm. The government hailed Italy’s U-turn as a success for diplomacy after being earlier accused of violating international laws on diplomatic immunity. Italy said it had received assurances about the pair’s treatment, with Italian President Giorgio Napolitano paying tribute to the “sense of responsibility” displayed by the two marines. Italy caused outrage earlier this month by announcing Massimiliano Latorre and Salvatore Girone would not return to India after they were given leave to vote in an election, reneging on pledges made at the Supreme Court.
‘Psycho’ case adjourned
A preliminary hearing on Thursday into the case of a former porn actor accused of murdering and dismembering a Chinese man was adjourned to April 8, court officials said. A Montreal court has been sitting since March 11 to assess evidence against Luka Rocco Magnotta, who is accused of butchering student Lin Jun (林俊) in May last year and posting footage of the killing on the Internet. The court has heard pre-trial testimony from more than 20 witnesses since the hearings began, mostly police officers and experts, while viewing photographs and video. When the hearing resumes next month, the judge is expected to hear evidence by video-link from witnesses in Vancouver and Europe, where Magnotta was arrested last year after an international manhunt. Magnotta, 30, the so-called “Canadian Psycho” has pleaded not guilty to first degree murder and other charges, including committing indignities to a body and harassing Prime Minister Stephen Harper.
Three dead in marine base
A US marine shot and killed two colleagues before apparently turning the gun on himself at a military base in Virginia, media reported early yesterday. The shooting happened on Thursday night at the Quantico marine base in the state bordering Washington, media reports said. The suspect was a marine who attended officer candidate school at the base, CBS News and other media reported, quoting First Lieutenant Augustin Solivan. The gunman killed a male marine, barricaded himself inside a barracks and was found dead later of an apparently self-inflicted gunshot wound, the reports said. A second body was found in the officer candidate school, Solivan told ABC News. The gender of the second victim was not known. The base went into lockdown immediately after the shooting, but this has since been lifted.
Colorado okays gay unions
Colorado became the latest state to approve civil unions for gay couples, ending a dramatic turnaround in a state where voters banned same-sex marriage in 2006. The Supreme Court is set to soon hear arguments in two major cases on gay rights, including a challenge to the federal Defense of Marriage Act, which defines marriage as being between one man and one woman, and a challenge to California’s ban on gay marriage. Depending on how broadly the court wants to tailor its decisions, they could affect the status of gay rights in all states. With Thursday’s action, Colorado will join eight US states that have civil unions or similar laws. Nine states and the District of Columbia allow gay marriage. The law takes effect on May 1.
UN calls for N Korea inquiry
The UN Human Rights Council has unanimously approved an inquiry into North Korea for possible crimes against humanity. The 47-nation council signed off on a resolution backed by the US, Japan and the EU that authorizes an investigation into what UN officials describe as suspected widespread and systematic violations of human rights in North Korea. The vote on Thursday follows the recommendations of UN special rapporteur Marzuki Darusman, who has told the council that the isolated country displays nine patterns of human rights violations. That includes having prison camps, the enforced disappearances of citizens and using food to control people. North Korea’s ambassador rejected the resolution, calling it political meddling.