TPM World News

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — North Korea on Friday accused the U.S. and South Korean spy agencies of an unsuccessful assassination attempt on leader Kim Jong Un involving bio-chemical weapons.

In a statement carried on state media, North Korea’s Ministry of State Security said it will “ferret out and mercilessly destroy” the “terrorists” in the CIA and South Korean intelligence agency for targeting its supreme leadership.

North Korea frequently lambasts the United States and South Korea, but its accusation Friday was unusual in its detail.

The ministry said the spy agencies in June 2014 “ideologically corrupted and bribed” a North Korean citizen who had been working in Russia to carry out the alleged assassination on Kim after returning home.

It said South Korean agents gave money and satellite communication equipment to the North Korean to attack Kim during a public event with a bio-chemical weapon, such as a delayed-action radioactive or “nano poisonous” substance.

The ministry said after a series of contacts and payments, the agents told the North Korean last month that the type of bio-chemical substance had been decided and that it would be supplied by the CIA.

The statement said in response to the alleged plot, a “Korean-style anti-terrorist attack will be commenced from this moment to sweep away the intelligence and plot-breeding organizations of the U.S. imperialists and the puppet clique,” referring to South Korea.

Officials at South Korea’s National Intelligence Service did not answer repeated phone calls seeking comment.

The North Korean statement comes during a period of tension on the Korean Peninsula over concerns that the North is preparing another nuclear test or missile launch, including a possible test of an intercontinental ballistic missile. Such moves would be a step toward the country’s goal of developing nuclear-armed missiles capable of reaching the U.S. mainland.

Earlier this year, North Korea was accused of using the chemical war agent VX to assassinate Kim’s exiled half brother at Kuala Lumpur’s airport, which led to calls in the United States to relist the North as a state sponsor of terrorism.

Copyright 2017 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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LONDON (AP) — Prince Philip, the consort known for his constant support of his wife Queen Elizabeth II as well as for his occasional gaffes, will retire from royal duties this fall, Buckingham Palace said Thursday.

Philip, 95, made the decision himself with the full support of the queen, the palace said in a statement. The royal, known as the Duke of Edinburgh, has suffered from heart disease and other ailments in recent years but has nonetheless maintained a vigorous public schedule.

He seemed to be in good health and a fine mood Wednesday during an appearance at a London cricket club. He joked about being the world’s most experienced person when it comes to unveiling plaques.

That may be true: Official figures indicate he has made more than 22,000 solo royal appearances and thousands more at the queen’s side.

Philip, a member of the Greek royal family in exile, has been at Elizabeth’s side in countless public appearance since their marriage in 1947. He gave up a successful naval career to support her when she became queen in 1952.

He became the longest-serving consort in British history in 2009 — much as Elizabeth has become the longest reigning monarch in British history.

Prime Minister Theresa May expressed gratitude “on behalf of the whole country” to Philip for his decades of service.

“From his steadfast support for Her Majesty the Queen to his inspirational Duke of Edinburgh Awards and his patronage of hundreds of charities and good causes, his contribution to our United Kingdom, the Commonwealth and the wider world will be of huge benefit to us all for years to come,” she said.

Officials said the queen, who turned 91 last month, will keep carrying out royal engagements with the support of the royal family. She has indicated that she does not plan to retire.

Elizabeth has, however, reduced her workload considerably in recent years as her children and grandchildren have moved to the fore. She has stopped making long-haul air flights to other Commonwealth countries.

Attention has been increasingly focused on her son Prince Charles, the heir to the throne, and on her grandson Prince William and his wife Kate, the Duchess of Cambridge.

The palace said Philip will continue his role with more than 780 charitable organizations but will not attend engagements.

He is not expected to disappear completely from the public stage — the palace said he may still choose to attend some events from time to time.

The palace did not offer any new details about his health and there were no indications of any new problems. The statement indicated Philip will carry out previously scheduled engagements between now and August.

Philip said when he turned 90 in 2011 that he was “winding down” his official duties, adding that he felt he had “done my bit.” He was treated later that year for a blocked heart artery but seemed to recover well.

He has been hospitalized several times since then with other ailments.

The queen is normally quite reserved about her private life but she has described her husband as “my strength and stay all these years.”

She met with May at the palace Wednesday and has made several public appearances recently. The queen and Philip were both ill with the flu over the Christmas holidays but seem to have recovered well.

Earlier in the day, a report by Britain’s Daily Mail of an unusual meeting of royal household staff sparked a worldwide wave of speculation about the health of the queen and Philip, including incorrect reports that the flag atop Buckingham Palace had been lowered to half-staff.

The Sun tabloid briefly reported on its website that Philip had died. The incorrect report was quickly dropped.

In Australia, where the queen is recognized as head of state, officials praised Philip’s perseverance.

“It says something about an individual that they get to the age of 95 before they decide to officially retire,” Australian Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce told reporters. “It’s something to aim for.”

Tourists outside Buckingham Palace also had kind words for Philip as he nears the end of his public life.

“He’s been an icon for so long, and I’ve really admired him and it saddens me in a way,” said Grace Marie, who said she understood his decision.

___

Danica Kirka and Kevin Scott in London and Kristen Gelineau in Sydney contributed.

Copyright 2017 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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PARIS (AP) — Days ahead of Sunday’s runoff vote between centrist Emmanuel Macron and his far-right rival Marine Le Pen, “fake news” briefly took center stage in the French presidential election.

Speaking during their only one-on-one debate Wednesday, Le Pen told her rival: “I hope we won’t find out you have an offshore account in the Bahamas.”

She appeared to be referencing two sets of apparent forgeries, published a couple of hours before Wednesday’s heated showdown, that purported to show that Macron was somehow involved with a Caribbean bank and a firm based on the island of Nevis.

Le Pen quickly backed away from the suggestion as the rumors were debunked the next day. The documents are obvious fakes: the “M” in Macron’s purported signature didn’t match his genuine sign-off, and whoever wrote the documents appeared confused as to whether the firm in question was a limited company or a limited liability corporation. Metadata embedded in the document suggest it was created just before being posted online — undermining the anonymous poster’s claim to have circulated the documents to “hundreds of French journalists” who had “all sat on this.”

Asked Thursday on BFM TV whether she was formally accusing Macron of having a secret offshore account, Le Pen said: “Not at all. If I wanted to do so I would have done it yesterday. I’ve just asked him the question. If I had proof, I would have claimed it yesterday.”

Macron’s camp said the former investment banker was victim of a “cyber misinformation campaign.”

Speaking on France Inter radio, Macron blamed Le Pen for spreading “fake news” and said he never held a bank account “in any tax haven whatsoever.”

“All this is factually inaccurate,” Macron said.

Le Pen and Macron face off in the presidential runoff Sunday. The latest opinion polls show the pro-EU Macron holding a strong lead over his far-right rival ahead of Sunday’s vote.

The election has been shot through with fears by some that outside forces would somehow interfere. Despite slim evidence supporting such claims, French commentators have become highly sensitive to rumors and conspiracies and the networks that disseminate them.

The provenance of the latest conspiracy theory isn’t clear, but there are hints tying the faked documents to far-right circles in California.

One of the documents, for example, purports to have been drawn up under the laws of Nevis but actually draws some of its language from a guide to forming limited liability companies in California. The documents first appeared on Mixtape, a relatively new northern California-based file sharing service. And the Macron campaign identified the first tweet referring to the documents as coming from the Twitter account of Nathan Damigo, a far-right activist and convicted felon also based out of northern California.

Damigo recently won a measure of social media notoriety for punching a female anti-fascist militant in the face at a protest in Berkeley and had recently promoted French far-right content online.

Messages left with Damigo weren’t immediately returned.

French media unanimously criticized the poor quality of the only face-to-face televised debate between the two contenders. Le Pen got most of the blame for dragging the conversation down and opting for aggression from the start. She defended her aggressive stance on Thursday, saying a “severe” tone was required because “what is at stake is essential.”

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SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — North Korea on Wednesday confirmed the detention of another American citizen for alleged acts of hostility aimed at overthrowing the country.

Kim Sang Dok, an accounting instructor at Pyongyang University of Science and Technology, was “intercepted” at Pyongyang International Airport on April 22, according to the Korean Central News Agency. It said he was being detained while authorities conduct a detailed investigation into his alleged crime.

The school’s chancellor Park Chan-mo and the Swedish Embassy in Pyongyang earlier gave the information about Kim’s detention but couldn’t provide the reason for his arrest. The school’s report used a different spelling of Kim’s name, Kim Sang-duk. Kim’s English name is Tony Kim.

He is now the third American being detained in North Korea. The other U.S. detainees are Otto Warmbier, serving a 15-year prison term with hard labor for alleged anti-state acts, and Kim Dong Chul, serving a 10-year term with hard labor for alleged espionage.

Analysts say North Korea often attempts to use foreign detainees to wrest outside concessions, which in the past have sometimes involved high-profile American missions sent to secure the release of detainees. Animosity between Pyongyang and Washington has spiked in recent weeks amid a game of brinkmanship between North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and U.S. President Donald Trump.

Park said Kim, who is 58, was detained as he was trying to leave the country from Pyongyang’s international airport. A university spokesman said he was trying to leave with his wife on a flight to China. Park said he was informed that the detention had “nothing to do” with Kim’s work at the university but did not know further details.

The U.S. State Department said last month that it was aware of the report about a U.S. citizen being detained, but declined further comment “due to privacy considerations.”

Kim previously taught Korean at the Yanbian University of Science and Technology in Yanji, China, not far from the North Korea border, according to the school’s Communist Party Committee secretary.

The Pyongyang University of Science and Technology is the only privately funded university in North Korea. It held its first classes in 2010. It is unique in the North for its large number of foreign staff.

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BEIRUT (AP) — Islamic State militants staged a surprise attack early Tuesday at a crossing frequently used by Iraqi and Syrian civilians seeking safety in northeastern Syria, killing at least 37 people, mostly civilians, Kurdish officials and activists said.

The pre-dawn attack took place after militants sneaked into the village of Rajm Sleibi, located along a front line that separates the Kurdish-controlled Hassakeh province from IS-held areas further south. Some militants reportedly blew themselves up at a Kurdish checkpoint while others attacked sleeping civilians in a nearby temporary camp sheltering hundreds of displaced people who fled IS-controlled territory.

The International Rescue Committee said thousands of people from the Iraqi city of Mosul have traveled west to the Sleibi crossing since October, often via smugglers. In a statement, it said several children were among the dead and wounded.

“We are appalled and saddened to hear of the attacks,” said Thomas Garofalo, regional advocacy adviser at the IRC.

Redur Khalil, a spokesman for the main Kurdish fighting force in Syria, said the attack started with an early morning assault by IS militants on a checkpoint in Sleibi belonging to the Syrian Democratic Forces, a U.S.-backed and Kurdish-dominated force that fights the Islamic State.

The militants then “committed a massacre” against civilians as they sought to enter SDF-controlled territory, Khalil said.

Khalil told The Associated Press the attack came a few hours after IS suicide bombers dressed in civilian clothes sneaked into the town of Shaddadeh and attacked SDF forces, triggering clashes that were ongoing.

Issam Amin, a media activist in Hassakeh, said the victims arriving at the city’s hospitals had stabbing and knife wounds.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which tracks the Syrian conflict through activists on the ground, said Tuesday’s attack included suicide bombers and heavy clashes with the SDF. The Observatory put the death toll at 38, including 23 civilians, many of them Iraqi.

The Islamic State group is under attack by an array of forces in Syria and Iraq. In Syria, the SDF is now fighting to recapture the town of Tabqa from IS.

The town is an important stronghold for the militants, located about 40 kilometers (25 miles) southeast of their de facto capital, the city of Raqqa. The SDF pushed the extremists to northern neighborhoods of Tabqa, close to one of Syria’s largest dams, and Kurdish officials say the battle will be over soon.

In Iraq, the extremist group is fighting for survival against Iraqi forces and their allies in the last neighborhoods it still holds in the western part of Mosul, Iraq’s second largest city.

The group claimed responsibility for Tuesday’s attacks through its media arm, Aamaq, saying its fighters attacked four Kurdish positions in the southern countryside of Hassakeh province.

Rajm Sleibi lies about 30 kilometers (18 miles) south of the town of al-Hol, which houses a large refugee camp for civilians displaced from Syria and Iraq. A Kurdish activist said it is the entry point to Hassakeh for Syrians civilians fleeing the eastern cities of Deir el-Zour and Raqqa, and those fleeing from Mosul and elsewhere in Iraq. The civilians initially spend about two weeks in Rajm Sleibi while they get security clearance from Kurdish authorities, and from there are taken then to al-Hol camp.

The activist spoke on condition of anonymity, fearing for his safety.

The camp is within the zone of influence of the SDF but not immediately protected by the forces.

Hawar, a news agency for the semi-autonomous Kurdish areas in Syria, put the death toll at 37.

Tuesday’s fighting comes a day before the Syrian government and the opposition were scheduled to resume cease-fire talks in the Kazakh capital, Astana.

Russian President Vladimir Putin said Tuesday that talks to resolve the Syrian crisis cannot be successful without the participation of the U.S. He said Russia is and will remain in contact with its “American partners” and he hopes they will “reach an understanding about joint steps.”

The Russian leader is scheduled to have a telephone conversation later Tuesday with U.S. President Donald Trump.

Putin also said Russia expects that steps will be taken to strengthen the cease-fire during the talks in Astana.

___

Associated Press writers Philip Issa and Bassem Mroue in Beirut, and Albert Aji in Damascus, Syria, contributed to this report.

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MOSCOW (AP) — During a tense appearance with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Russian President Vladimir Putin denied on Tuesday that Moscow ever interferes in elections in other countries.

Speaking during a joint news conference following talks at his Black Sea residence, Putin said accusations of meddling in the 2016 U.S. presidential election were “simply rumors” that are being used as part of the political fight in Washington. He also denied interfering in European elections.

U.S. intelligence agencies say they have definitive evidence that Russia was behind the hacking of Democratic email accounts, with the aim of benefiting Donald Trump’s campaign and harming his Democratic opponent, Hillary Clinton.

Merkel said she was confident that Germany can weather any disinformation campaign targeting Germany’s upcoming election. Asked about the threat during the news conference, she cited two recent incidents of what she described as “gross misinformation.”

In one instance, Russian media and the foreign minister claimed that a 13-year-old girl of Russian origin had been kidnapped and raped by asylum-seekers in Berlin, and that German authorities were covering up the case. Police later determined the girl had made up the kidnapping, though a man in his 20s was charged with sexual abuse of a minor because she was below the age of consent.

Merkel said Germany would take “decisive measures” if it believed there was foreign meddling in the election, adding it was well-known that “hybrid warfare plays a role in Russia’s military doctrine.”

Merkel’s visit to Sochi is her first trip to Russia in two years, as relations between the two countries remain strained in large part over the unresolved conflict in eastern Ukraine.

Merkel and Putin last met in Germany in October for talks aimed at reviving the stalled peace process. The peace deal brokered by Germany and France in 2015 has helped reduce the scale of the fighting between Russia-backed rebels and Ukrainian forces, but violence has continued and attempts to reach a political settlement have failed.

Merkel and Putin heatedly disagreed Tuesday on the cause of the conflict. Both, however, confirmed their support for the peace agreement negotiated in Minsk, Belarus.

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ANKARA, Turkey (AP) — Turkey’s president on Tuesday rejoined the ruling party he co-founded in a step on his path toward solidifying his grip on power, following his narrow victory in last month’s referendum.

Most of the constitutional changes ushering in a presidential system, approved in the April 16 referendum, will take effect after the November 2019 election. But an amendment that reverses a requirement for the president to be non-partisan and cut ties with their party come into effect immediately, allowing President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to return to the Islamic-rooted Justice and Development Party, or AKP.

The party is expected to re-elect Erdogan as its chairman at an extraordinary congress on May 21.

Erdogan symbolically signed a membership form in an emotional ceremony at the AKP’s headquarters, where some party members were seen weeping. Erdogan was also seen wiping his eyes with a handkerchief.

“I am today returning to my home, my love, my passion,” Erdogan said. “This yearning (for my party) is ending after 979 days.”

Erdogan, who was prime minister between 2003 and 2014, was forced to resign from the AKP when he became president. The father of four continued to lead the party — he once described it as his fifth child — from behind the scenes. For example, Erdogan had the final say on the list of candidates running for parliamentary seats.

The changes formalize a de-facto situation but also allow him to maintain a tighter grip on the party. Recent political history saw former Presidents Turgut Ozal and Suleyman Demirel lose control over their parties, after they become heads of state and left their parties.

“In effect, the existing, de-facto situation will become legal,” said Ozgur Unluhisarcikli, director of the Ankara office of the German Marshall Fund of the United States.

“Erdogan attaches as much importance to controlling his party as he does the new presidential system,” Unluhisarcikli said. “Political parties play an important part in the Turkish political system and a leader who controls a party holding a majority controls many things.”

Erdogan arrived at the AKP headquarters in a 13-vehicle motorcade, the five-minute journey broadcast live on television channels.

He was greeted at the entrance by Prime Minister Binali Yildirim and other party executives.

“Welcome back to the home that you founded,” Yildirim said. “Today is a historic day for Turkish politics and its democracy.”

Yildirim reaffirmed that Erdogan would be nominated as chairman at the congress later this month.

Erdogan’s “yes” camp won the referendum with 51.4 percent of the vote against 48.6 percent for the “no” side, according to final results announced last week.

The main opposition party contested the outcome, citing irregularities, and is challenging the referendum at the European Court of Human Rights, following unsuccessful Turkish high court appeals.

During his speech Tuesday, Erdogan said, however, that the European court has no jurisdiction over the referendum.

“It has no right to intervene in this country’s internal affairs concerning elections,” Erdogan said.

The vote switches Turkey’s system from a parliamentary one to a presidential system, abolishing the office of prime minister while enhancing the president’s powers.

Critics fears the change will lead to a one-man authoritarian rule with too few checks and balances. Erdogan and his supporters argue that a strong presidency will bring stability and more efficient government.

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ST. PETERSBURG, Russia (AP) — Russian police have detained several gay rights activists in St. Petersburg during a protest against the reported abuse of homosexuals in Chechnya.

An Associated Press photographer saw three women being detained during Monday’s protest. The Fontanka.ru news portal reported about 10 detentions in all on Nevsky Prospekt, the city’s central avenue. No official information was available.

Gay activists and others have been alarmed by reports accusing police in Chechnya of detaining and torturing about 100 men suspected of being gay. The predominantly Muslim region in southern Russia is led by Ramzan Kadyrov, whose security forces have long been accused of torture and extrajudicial killings.

Fontanka.ru reported that the activists detained Monday had shouted “Kadyrov to The Hague!” a reference to the International Criminal Court located in the Dutch city.

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UNITED NATIONS (AP) — New evidence indicates that the Syrian government used suspected nerve agents in four chemical weapons attacks since December including one in an opposition-held town April 4 that killed nearly 100 people, a human rights group said Monday.

Human Rights Watch said in a report that these attacks “are part of a broader pattern of Syrian government forces’ use of chemical weapons” which could be categorized as crimes against humanity.

The rights group said the April attack in Khan Sheikhoun and the three others using suspected nerve agents all took place in areas where offensives by armed forces fighting the government threatened military air bases.

It said witnesses described symptoms consistent with exposure to nerve agents that they and other local residents experienced after planes attacked northern Hama on March 30 and territory controlled by the Islamic State extremist group in eastern Hama on Dec. 11 and 12.

In the December attacks, Human Rights Watch said four witnesses interviewed by phone and two medical personnel interviewed by text messages through intermediaries gave consistent accounts. An opposition-affiliated activist and local residents provided the names of 64 people who died of chemical exposure, it said.

The group quoted residents, medical personnel and first responders saying the suspected attack on March 30 caused no deaths but injured dozens of people.

In Khan Sheikhoun, Human Rights Watch said 92 people, including 30 children, were identified by residents and activists as victims of deadly chemical exposure. Medical personnel reported that hundreds more were injured, it said.

As part of the evidence showing that attacks have become widespread and systematic, Human Rights Watch identified three different systems being used to deliver chemical weapons:

—Government warplanes dropping bombs with nerve agents.

—Government helicopters dropping chlorine-filled munitions, which has become more systematic.

—Government or pro-government ground forces starting to use improvised ground-launched munitions filled with chlorine.

In at least some attacks, the rights group said, the aim appears to have been to inflict “severe suffering” on the civilian population.

“The government’s recent use of nerve agents is a deadly escalation — and part of a clear pattern,” said Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch.

“In the last six months, the government has used warplanes, helicopters and ground forces to deliver chlorine and sarin in Damascus, Hama, Idlib and Aleppo,” he said. “That’s widespread and systematic use of chemical weapons.”

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WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) — They may not have lost themselves in the music or the moment but a judge and nine lawyers in a New Zealand courtroom did listen politely to Eminem’s “Lose Yourself” as a copyright trial involving the country’s ruling political party began Monday.

The Detroit-based music publishers for Eminem are suing New Zealand’s conservative National Party, alleging the soundtrack for a 2014 election campaign ad copied the rapper’s acclaimed 2002 song. Titled “Eminem Esque,” the track has the familiar urgent, pulsing beat of the original.

The party has previously said it purchased the track through an Australian-based supplier and doesn’t believe it has infringed anyone’s copyright.

In 2014, when the case was filed, lawmaker Steven Joyce said he thought the use of the song was “pretty legal,” and that Eminem’s team “are just having a crack and a bit of an eye for the main chance because it’s an election campaign.” That response was widely ridiculed, including by comedian John Oliver on his show “Last Week Tonight.”

“Pretty legal? That’s not a concept that exists. That’s like being sort-of dead,” Oliver joked on the show.

Spokespeople for both Joyce and the National Party said Monday they wouldn’t be commenting while the case was before the court.

Garry Williams, the lawyer for Eminem’s music publishers Eight Mile Style, told the High Court in Wellington that the National Party had wanted a song that was edgy and modern but showed the party was dependable. He said the music fared better with focus groups than a classical piece.

He quoted from National Party emails, including one in which the song is described as an Eminem “sound-alike” and another in which an agent for the party wrote “I guess the question we’re asking, if everyone thinks it’s Eminem, and it’s listed as Eminem Esque, how can we be confident that Eminem doesn’t say we’re ripping him off?”

Williams said the emails showed it was “utterly clear” the party knew it was using a copyrighted song.

Speaking outside the court, Joel Martin, a spokesman for Eminem’s music publishers, said he was surprised the two sides hadn’t settled and that going to trial against an entity like a governing political party was unusual and extraordinary.

“The bottom line is we would never have permitted the use of the song in any political advertisement,” he said.

Martin said the publishers are seeking both a cash settlement for an undisclosed amount and an acknowledgement by the court that the National Party breached copyright. He said that by pursuing the case, they are showing they take copyright infringement around the world seriously.

He said the political views of the National Party were not a factor: “We are Americans and we don’t know about politics in New Zealand,” he said.

Judge Helen Cull ruled that some details in the case would remain confidential because they were commercially sensitive.

The judge-only case is expected to last about six days and will determine whether copyright was breached. The amount of any damages would be decided later.

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