TPM World News

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — North and South Korea agreed Friday to hold temporary reunions of families divided by the 1950-53 Korean War as they boost reconciliation efforts amid a diplomatic push to resolve the North Korean nuclear crisis.

The reunions will take place at North Korea’s Diamond Mountain resort from Aug. 20 to 26, Seoul’s Unification Ministry said after a nine-hour meeting between Red Cross officials from the two sides.

It said the countries will each send 100 participants to the reunions. People with mobility problems will be allowed to bring a relative to help them.

Such temporary reunions are highly emotional as most wishing to take part are elderly people who are eager to see their loved ones before they die. The families were driven apart during the turmoil of the war.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and South Korean President Moon Jae-in agreed during a summit in April to hold the family reunions about Aug. 15, the anniversary of the Korean Peninsula’s independence from Japanese colonial rule at the end of World War II in 1945.

Friday’s talks between Red Cross officials at the Diamond Mountain resort were to arrange details of the reunions.

Kim and Moon met again in May. Their two summits have opened various channels of peace talks between the countries. The rivals recently agreed to restore cross-border military hotline communication channels and field joint teams in some events at the upcoming Asian Games in Indonesia.

“If we sternly separate ourselves from the unfortunate past and acquire a strong mindset for the new times, humanitarian cooperation between the North and South will flourish,” North Korea delegate Pak Yong Il said at the start of the meeting. Park Kyung-seo, president of South Korea’s Red Cross, expressed hope for talks that could “resolve the grief of our nation.”

The Koreas last held family reunions in 2015 before relations worsened because of North Korea’s accelerated pursuit of nuclear long-range missiles and the hard-line response of Seoul’s then-conservative government.

Since the end of the Korean War, both Koreas have banned ordinary citizens from visiting relatives on the other side of the border or contacting them without permission. Nearly 20,000 Koreans have participated in 20 rounds of face-to-face temporary reunions held between the countries since 2000.

Aside from setting up a new round of reunions, South Korean officials also proposed a survey to confirm surviving members of war-separated families in North Korea and the possibility of hometown visits, but couldn’t reach an agreement with North Korean officials, Park told reporters after the meeting.

The limited numbers of reunions are vastly insufficient to meet the demands of aging relatives, who are mostly in their 80s and 90s, South Korean officials say. According to Seoul’s Unification Ministry, more than 75,000 of the 132,000 South Koreans who have applied to attend a reunion have died. None of the past participants has had a second reunion.

South Korea uses a computerized lottery to pick participants for the reunions, while North Korea is believed to choose based on loyalty to its authoritarian leadership. South Korean analysts say North Korea allows only infrequent reunions for fear of wasting what it sees as an important diplomatic bargaining chip. North Korea may also worry that its citizens will become influenced by the much more affluent South, which could loosen the government’s grip on power.

There had been expectations that Friday’s meeting could get contentious if North Korean officials reiterated the country’s demand for the return of 12 North Korean restaurant workers in return for allowing reunions.

Seoul has said the 12 women, who had worked in a restaurant in China, had defected and willingly settled in South Korea in 2016 but is now reviewing the circumstances following a media report suggesting at least some were brought against their will.

Park was unwilling to provide a clear answer when asked whether North Korea had raised the issue during the meeting. The North rejected a South Korean proposal for family reunions last year, seeking the workers’ return first.

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JERUSALEM (AP) — Israeli prosecutors on Thursday charged the wife of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu with misusing over $100,000 in public funds to order lavish meals from some of the country’s most famous chefs.

While the prime minister was not directly implicated in the case, the indictment against Sara Netanyahu threatens to embarrass the long-serving leader and brings back attention to his own legal problems.

Netanyahu has basked in months of political success, including the Trump administration’s withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal and its move of the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem, taking away attention from a series of corruption investigations facing the prime minister.

Sara Netanyahu has long faced allegations of abusive behavior and living extravagantly. In 2016, a court ruled she abused an employee and awarded the man $42,000 in damages. Other former employees have accused her of mistreatment, charges the Netanyahus have vehemently denied.

In Thursday’s indictment, the Justice Ministry said Sara Netanyahu was charged with graft, fraud and breach of trust for allegedly overspending more than $100,000 on private meals at the prime minister’s official residence, even when there was a full-time chef on staff. A former deputy director of the official residence was also charged.

Sara Netanyahu acted “to circumvent the rules and conditions” governing the official residence “in order to fraudulently obtain state funding for various expenses for the accused and her family that were not supposed to be financed in this manner,” the indictment said.

If convicted, she could face a maximum sentence of five years behind bars, though that seemed unlikely. It was unclear when her trial would begin.

There was no immediate comment from her office.

The indictment threatens to reinforce the unflattering reputation the Netanyahus have gained for enjoying an expensive lifestyle out of touch with most Israelis. Netanyahu also faces several police investigations into alleged corruption. The Netanyahus have denied any wrongdoing, and say they are the victims of a political witch hunt and hostile media.

Israeli police questioned Netanyahu, his wife and son last week in connection to a corruption case involving the country’s telecom giant, Bezeq. Netanyahu is suspected of promoting regulations worth hundreds of millions of dollars for the company in return for more favorable coverage of the Netanyahu family on the telecom company’s influential news site.

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TORONTO (AP) — Canada’s Senate gave final passage Tuesday to the federal government’s bill to legalize cannabis, though Canadians will have to wait at least a couple of months to legally buy marijuana as their country becomes the second in the world to make pot legal nationwide.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government had hoped to make pot legal by July 1, but the government has said provincial and territorial governments will need eight to 12 weeks following Senate passage and royal assent to prepare for retail sales. Trudeau’s government is expected to decide a date that would legalize it in early or mid-September.

“It’s been too easy for our kids to get marijuana — and for criminals to reap the profits. Today, we change that. Our plan to legalize & regulate marijuana just passed the Senate,” Trudeau tweeted.

Canada is following the lead of Uruguay in allowing a nationwide, legal marijuana market, although each Canadian province is working up its own rules for pot sales. The federal government and the provinces also still need to publish regulations that will govern the cannabis trade.

The bill passed in the Senate by a vote of 52-29.

“We have seen in the Senate tonight a historic vote that ends 90 years of prohibition of cannabis in this country, 90 years of needless criminalization, 90 years of a just-say-no approach to drugs that hasn’t worked,” said independent Sen. Tony Dean, who sponsored the bill in the upper house.

Canada is the largest developed country to end a nationwide prohibition on marijuana use. In the neighboring U.S., nine states and the District of Columbia have legalized marijuana. California, home to one in eight Americans, launched the United States’ biggest legal marijuana marketplace on Jan.

Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould tweeted that it was a “historic milestone for progressive policy in Canada as we shift our approach to cannabis”

Health Minister Ginette Petitpas Taylor tweeted she was thrilled that the Senate approved the bill. “We’re on the cusp of a sensible, responsible and equitable cannabis policy,” she said.

The Canadian government largely followed the advice of a marijuana task force headed by former Liberal Health Minister Anne McLellan as well as the advice of former Toronto Police Chief Bill Blair, who is the parliamentary secretary to the justice minister.

The task force recommended adults be allowed to carry up to 30 grams of pot and grow up to four plants. It also said marijuana should not be sold in the same location as alcohol or tobacco.

The most controversial aspect of Canada’s move to legalize marijuana nationwide has been setting the minimum age for use at 18 or 19, depending on the province. That is lower than in U.S. states that have embraced legalization.

Advocates argued that putting the limit at 21 would encourage a black market and drive youths into the hands of criminals. But some health experts have worried that the lower age will encourage use of a substance that can have long-term consequences on still-maturing brains.

Conservative senators remained staunchly opposed to legalization.

“We’re going to have all those involved in illegal marijuana peddling right now becoming large corporation,” Conservative Sen. Leo Housakos said. “When you normalize the use of marijuana and you’re a young person and you had certain reservations because of the simple fact that it was illegal, there’s, I believe, a propensity to have somebody be more inclined to use it.”

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BERLIN (AP) — German Chancellor Angela Merkel took aim Tuesday at U.S. President Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw from the Paris accord, calling the move “very regrettable” at a time when the overwhelming majority of countries worldwide are trying to limit global warming.

“We know climate change isn’t a matter of faith,” she told an international climate meeting in Berlin. “It’s a fact.”

Trump announced last year that the U.S. will pull out of the accord negotiated by his predecessor unless he can “get a better deal.”

Merkel said Germany remains committed to the Paris climate accord fighting global warming but acknowledged that the country still needs to do more to curb emissions, particularly in the transport sector, if it wants to meet its own goals.

The long-time German leader urged the 178 countries that have ratified the 2015 Paris accord to agree by the end of the year on a rulebook for its implementation.

“The German government stands fully behind the Paris climate accord, because ambitious climate policies don’t just help limit the worst consequences of climate change , they also offer chances for innovation and therefore growth and prosperity worldwide,” she said.

Germany, the strongest economy in the 28-nation European Union, was once a leader in the fight against climate change but has fallen behind in recent years. Officials predict that Germany will miss its goal of cutting emissions by 2020 by a wide margin.

“We in Germany have to admit that we need to get better,” said Merkel, adding that the biggest worry was the country’s transport sector, which has seen emissions rise slightly compared to 1990.

The talks in Berlin, attended by ministers from some 30 countries, are part of a series of meetings preparing for December’s global climate summit in Poland.

Mateusz Morawiecki, Poland’s prime minister, told ministers that the summit’s host city of Katowice, a former center of heavy industry and coal mining, would be a showcase for the economic shift that is needed to prevent climate change.

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GENEVA (AP) — The U.N. refugee agency reported Tuesday that nearly 69 million people who have fled war, violence and persecution were forcibly displaced last year, a record for the fifth straight year.

The U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees said the continued crises in places like South Sudan and Congo, as well as the exodus of Muslim Rohingya from Myanmar that started last year, raised the overall figure of forced displacements in 2017 to 68.5 million.

Of that total, 16.2 million were newly displaced last year — an average of more than 44,000 people per day. Most have been displaced for longer than that, some forced to flee multiple times.

“The global figure has gone up again by a couple of million,” said the High Commissioner, Filippo Grandi. “This is because of protracted conflicts and lack of solutions for those conflicts that continue, continuous pressure on civilians in countries of conflict that pushed them to leave their homes and new or aggravating crises, like the Rohingya crisis.”

For the fourth year running, Turkey was again the country with the largest number of refugees — mostly Syrians — at 3.5 million at the end of 2017. The United States received the most new individual applications for asylum last year, at nearly 332,000. Germany was second at more than 198,000.

But UNHCR, Grandi’s agency, said the figures debunked the flawed perception among some that a refugee crisis has affected more developed countries in the “Global North.” It said 85 percent of refugees are in developing countries, many of them “desperately poor.”

“It should be an element dispelling the perception, the notion that is so prevailing in many countries: That the refugee crisis — singular — is a crisis of the rich world,” Grandi said. “It is not. It continues to be a crisis mostly of the poor world.”

Jan Egeland, secretary-general of the Norwegian Refugee Council who once headed the U.N. humanitarian aid agency, said cooperation between countries and diplomacy for peace were in “deep crisis.”

“International responsibility-sharing for displaced people has utterly collapsed. Rich countries are building walls against families fleeing war, at the same time as less money is available for aid to people in conflict areas,” Egeland said. He said leaders in many countries are invoking border closures in Europe to carry out their own exclusion policies.

“We have to end this race to the bottom, and rather let us be inspired by generous recipient countries like Uganda, where vulnerable refugees are being protected,” he said.

The data release comes ahead of World Refugee Day on Wednesday.

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WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump directed the U.S. Trade Representative to prepare new tariffs on $200 billion in Chinese imports on Monday as the two nations moved closer to a potential trade war.

The tariffs, which Trump wants set at a 10 percent rate, would be the latest round of punitive measures in an escalating dispute over the large trade imbalance between the two countries. Trump recently ordered tariffs on $50 billion in Chinese goods in retaliation for intellectual property theft. The tariffs were quickly matched by China on U.S. exports, a move that drew the president’s ire.

“China apparently has no intention of changing its unfair practices related to the acquisition of American intellectual property and technology,” Trump said in a statement Monday announcing the new action. “Rather than altering those practices, it is now threatening United States companies, workers, and farmers who have done nothing wrong.”

Trump added: “These tariffs will go into effect if China refuses to change its practices, and also if it insists on going forward with the new tariffs that it has recently announced.”

China’s Commerce Ministry on Tuesday criticized the latest threat of tariffs, saying it was an “act of extreme pressure and blackmail that deviates from the consensus reached by both parties after many negotiations, and is a disappointment to the international community.”

“If the U.S. becomes irrational and issues this list, China will have no choice but to adopt strong countermeasures of the same amount and quality,” the ministry statement said.

Trump said that if China responds to this fresh round of tariffs, then he will move to counter “by pursuing additional tariffs on another $200 billion of goods.”

It wasn’t immediately clear when the new tariffs could be put in place, as the trade office has yet to identify the Chinese goods to be penalized or conduct a legal review.

The first round of penalties announced by both nations is set to take effect July 6.

The intellectual property sanctions were the latest in a spate of protectionist measures unveiled by Trump in recent months that included tariffs on steel and aluminum imports to the U.S. and a tough rhetoric on trade negotiations from North America to Asia.

The escalation in the dispute with China may also serve as a warning to other trading partners with whom Trump has been feuding, including Canada and the European Union.

The move quickly drew praise from former Trump senior adviser Steve Bannon, who told The Associated Press: “President Trump told China and the world tonight that America will not back down when it comes to economic aggression.”

But Wall Street has viewed the escalating trade tensions with wariness, fearful they could strangle the economic growth achieved during Trump’s watch. Gary Cohn, Trump’s former top economic adviser, said last week that a “tariff battle” could result in price inflation and consumer debt — “historic ingredients for an economic slowdown.”

Trump’s comments came hours after the top U.S. diplomat accused China of engaging in “predatory economics 101” and an “unprecedented level of larceny” of intellectual property.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo made the remarks at the Detroit Economic Club as global markets reacted to trade tensions between the U.S. and China.

He said China’s recent claims of “openness and globalization” are “a joke.” He added that China is a “predatory economic government” that is “long overdue in being tackled,” matters that include IP theft and Chinese steel and aluminum flooding the U.S. market.

“Everyone knows … China is the main perpetrator,” he said. “It’s an unprecedented level of larceny.”

“Just ask yourself: Would China have allowed America to do to it what China has done to America?” he said later. “This is predatory economics 101.”

Asked to comment on Pompeo’s remarks, the Chinese foreign ministry in Beijing said in a regular briefing with reporters that the U.S. had lost credibility as a free trader.

“We don’t want a trade war, but we’re not afraid of a trade war,” ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said.

Pompeo raised the trade issue directly with China last week, when he met in Beijing with President Xi Jinping and others.

“I reminded him that’s not fair competition,” Pompeo said.

Trump had announced a 25 percent tariff on up to $50 billion in Chinese imports.

China is retaliating by raising import duties on $34 billion worth of American goods, including soybeans, electric cars and whiskey. Trump also has slapped tariffs on steel and aluminum imports from Canada, Mexico and European allies.

Pompeo on Monday described U.S. actions as “economic diplomacy,” which, when done right, strengthens national security and international alliances, he added.

“We use American power, economic might and influence as a tool of economic policy,” he said. “We do our best to call out unfair economic behaviors as well.”

In a statement, Trump says he has an “excellent relationship” with Xi, “but the United States will no longer be taken advantage of on trade by China and other countries in the world.”

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LONDON (AP) — The father of the former Meghan Markle says he talked politics with Prince Harry over the phone — and Harry argued that he should give President Donald Trump a chance.

Thomas Markle told broadcaster ITV on Monday that he had several phone conversations with Harry, including one in which the prince asked for permission to marry his daughter.

Markle said Trump was discussed at least once: “Our conversation was I was complaining about not liking Donald Trump, he said ‘give Donald Trump a chance’. I sort of disagreed with that.”

Markle said he also asked his future son-in-law about Britain’s 2016 decision to leave the European Union and got the impression Harry is comfortable with Brexit.

“I think he was open to the experiment,” Markle said.

Harry’s press office declined to comment on Markle’s televised interview, which could raise eyebrows because senior royal figures are scrupulously careful not to comment publicly on domestic or international political affairs.

Markle, who had been scheduled to walk his daughter down the aisle, missed the royal wedding in May due to heart problems. He told ITV he was “doing much better” and that he regretted missing the big event.

The 73-year-old Markle, who watched the wedding from California, says he was “very proud” but that “the unfortunate thing for me now is I’m a footnote in one of the greatest moments in history rather than the dad walking her down the aisle.”

He says the couple, now known as the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, will probably seek to have children soon.

“She’s wanted children for a long time,” he said.

Markle said he gave Harry permission to marry his daughter over the phone.

“Harry asked for her hand on the phone and I said: ‘You are a gentleman, promise me you will never raise your hand against my daughter and of course I will grant you my permission. “‘

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VATICAN CITY (AP) — The Vatican and Mexico are lamenting how children “are suffering the most” from forced migration, as the Trump administration comes under increasing criticism for its policy of separating children from their parents at the U.S.-Mexico border.

The Vatican on Monday released the conclusions of the second Vatican-Mexico conference on international migration, held last week at the Vatican. The statement made no explicit reference to the separation policy, though it stressed the need to “insist on the centrality of the human person in every political act … reaffirming the inviolability of human rights and the dignity of every human being on the move.”

“Children are the ones who are suffering the most from forced migration. We must respond effectively to the challenges created by these flows, balancing the principles of solidarity, subsidiarity and co-responsibility,” the statement said.

Nearly 2,000 children were separated from their families over a six-week period in April and May after Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced a new “zero-tolerance” policy that refers all cases of illegal entry for criminal prosecution. U.S. protocol prohibits detaining children with their parents because the children are not charged with a crime and the parents are.

The head of the U.S. conference of Catholic bishops’ committee on migration has condemned the policy as “immoral,” and the issue dominated the U.S. bishops’ recent assembly in Florida.

The Vatican-Mexico statement called for a global governance body for migration “to ensure a safe, ordered and regular migration that helps all those involved.”

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BRUSSELS (AP) — The European Union has extended sanctions against Russia for a year over its annexation of Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula in 2014.

The EU said in a statement on Monday that it “remains firmly committed to Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity” and said that it continued to “condemn this violation of international law.”

The sanctions are now set to run until June 23, 2019, and apply to EU citizens and companies. They ban the import of products from Crimea and Sevastopol, halt any European investment or real estate purchases there and stop cruise ships from stopping there.

The measures also ban the export of some goods and technologies that could be used for transport, telecommunications or in the energy sector — particularly oil, gas or mineral exploration.

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