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Kim tells N Korean army to ready for combat – Asia-Pacific – Al Jazeera English

Kim tells N Korean army to ready for combat – Asia-Pacific – Al Jazeera English.

Kim visited the Command of Large Combined Unit 526 on Tuesday to mark the day his father became supreme commander [EPA]
North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un has warned war could break out “without any prior notice” and urged his military to bolster its combat readiness, state media reported.The call on Wednesday comes one day after a US-Korea Institute at Johns Hopkins University report said that satellite imagery suggested that the North might have begun producing fuel rods for its recently restarted nuclear reactor.

There has been heightened tension on the Korean Peninsula following the execution of Kim’s uncle and former mentor in an unusually public purge.

Seoul and Washington have warned of possible provocative acts by the nuclear-armed North following the execution of Jang Song-Thaek, a senior leader who was also the uncle and former political mentor of the younger leader.

Kim visited the Command of Large Combined Unit 526 on Christmas Eve, the North’s official Korean Central News Agency said.

“He instructed the unit to put utmost spurs on rounding off its combat readiness… always bearing in mind that a war breaks out without any prior notice,” it said.

The unit is based in the North’s western port city of Nampo, according to the South’s Yonhap news agency.

‘Ominous’ situation

The Johns Hopkins University report said that satellite imagery had identified facilities at the Yongbyon Nuclear Scientific Research Centre that might produce fuel for North Korea’s recently restarted  plutonium production reactor and the Experimental Light Water Reactor still under construction.

“The identification of these facilities indicates a more wide-ranging, extensive effort by North Korea to modernise and restart the Yongbyon complex dating back to 2009 than previously understood,” the report said.

South Korean President Park Geun-Hye called for “watertight security readiness” during her trip on Tuesday to a frontline guard post, as she described the situation over the border as “ominous”.

“We should react sternly and mercilessly to any provocations by North Korea,” she said.

The reclusive state’s propaganda mill has gone into overdrive in recent days, describing Jang as a traitor while extolling Kim’s leadership.

Tens of thousands of troops pledged loyalty to him in a mass rally on the death anniversary of his father last Tuesday.

The Kim dynasty has ruled the impoverished but nuclear-armed state since 1948 with an iron fist and pervasive personality cult.

 

European countries reel from deadly storms – Europe – Al Jazeera English

European countries reel from deadly storms – Europe – Al Jazeera English.

Deadly hurricane-force winds and torrential rain have brought havoc to transport networks Britain and France.The death toll rose to at least six people on Tuesday, as winds of up to 145kph hit both sides of the Channel with heavy downpours causing flooding, traffic jams, and cancellations of rail, flight and ferry services.

Aidan McGivern, a meteorologist, told Al Jazeera people were preparing themselves for more bad weather.

Analysts expect the storms to hurt retailers eager to cash in on the traditional Christmas rush [EPA]

In Britain, the number of people killed in two days of storms rose to at least five after a man died trying to rescue his dog from fast-flowing waters in Devon, southwest England.

A teenager died in France on Monday after a wall collapsed on him.

Airports in southern England were disrupted, with some flights from Britain’s busiest airport, Heathrow, cancelled or delayed.

Britain’s second busiest airport, Gatwick, said one terminal had been hit by a major power outage on Tuesday and storm damage had temporarily cut all trains to the airport.

Several hundred passengers were stranded at the airport and airport police had to be called in to help deal with angry passengers.

British train operators cancelled hundreds of services on Tuesday morning, by which time the storm had abated, leaving hundreds of thousands of people scrambling to get on to later services in and out of London.

Thousands without power

Brittany and Normandy were among the regions worst hit in France, where 240,000 homes lost electricity, while in southern England, 150,000 homes were cut off from the power grid, the Energy Networks Association said.

Energy company Southern Electric said that some customers would be without power on Christmas Day.

McGivern told Al Jazeera another storm was expected to strike on Friday.

“That is expected to bring another spell of wet and windy weather,” he said.

IHS analyst Howard Archer said the weather was expected to hurt British retailers, eager to cash in on the traditional pre Christmas rush.

“Given retailers’ hopes that the last couple of days before Christmas would see a final strong surge in sales, the awful weather could not have come at a worse time,” Archer said.

 

Israel launches fresh air strikes on Gaza – Middle East – Al Jazeera English

Israel launches fresh air strikes on Gaza – Middle East – Al Jazeera English.

The girl was killed and her family were wounded in an air strike on a refugee camp in Gaza [Reuters]
A three-year-old Palestinian girl was killed and at least six other people wounded in a series of Israeli air and tank strikes on the Gaza Strip, medical sources said.Medics named the girl as Hala Abu Sabikha from the central Gaza Strip, noting “three other members of her family were wounded” on Tuesday.

Emergency services spokesman Ashraf al-Qudra said six people had been wounded in a series of strikes, which came in response to the shooting to death earlier of an Israeli repairing the security fence separating Gaza from Israel.

The Hamas interior ministry said Abu Sabikha and her family were injured in an air strike on a refugee camp in central Gaza.

It also said a person was moderately wounded in a tank shelling near the Karni crossing in northern Gaza and that there were two other air strikes on militant positions in northern Gaza, where no casualties were reported.

The Israeli army said aircraft, tanks and infantry “targeted terror sites in the Gaza Strip” in retaliation for the shooting of the Israeli.

“The sites targeted were a weapon-manufacturing facility and a terror infrastructure in the southern Gaza Strip, a terror site and another terror infrastructure in the central Gaza Strip and a concealed rocket launcher in the northern Gaza Strip,” an army statement said.

 

N Korea ‘restarting nuclear programme’ – Asia-Pacific – Al Jazeera English

N Korea ‘restarting nuclear programme’ – Asia-Pacific – Al Jazeera English.

A cooling tower at Yongbyon was destroyed in June 2008, but the plant now seems to be reactivating [Reuters]
Satellite imagery suggests North Korea is making “wide-ranging, extensive” efforts to fully reactivate its main nuclear complex, a US think-tank has said, in line with Pyongyang’s vows to strengthen its weapons programme.Recent images show work at the Yongbyon nuclear compound, apparently aimed at producing fuel rods to be used in a plutonium reactor, Johns Hopkins University’s US-Korea Institute said.

Analysis of the imagery identified one “probable fuel fabrication plant” for the 5-megawatt plutonium reactor that reopened earlier this year, researcher Nick Hansen wrote on the institute’s blog, 38 North.

The isolated communist state staged its third nuclear test in February, its most powerful to date, after two previous tests in 2006 and 2009.

Two months later, it said it would reopen the Yongbyon nuclear compound in the northwest that had been shut since 2007, in order to bolster its atomic arsenal.

“The soot on the new roof shows that a heating process had occurred, such as the use of metal casting furnaces necessary to complete the heat treatment during the fuel rod assembly,” Hansen wrote.

Nuclear stockpile

A nearby venue that appears to be a dumping site showed a large amount of “grey materials” suspected to be ash from the fuel rod production process, he added.

“The identification of these facilities indicates a more wide-ranging, extensive effort by North Korea to modernise and restart the Yongbyon complex… than previously understood,” he wrote.

Pyongyang’s current stockpile of nuclear materials, mostly plutonium, is variously estimated as being enough for six to 10 bombs.

Nam Jae-Joon, chief of the South’s intelligence agency, told politicians on Monday that the North was capable of staging another atomic test anytime but had so far showed no signs of doing so.

 

China lashes out at Japan defence plans – Asia-Pacific – Al Jazeera English

China lashes out at Japan defence plans – Asia-Pacific – Al Jazeera English.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe wants to raise Japan’s military profile to meet what he says is a threat from China. [AFP]
China’s military has condemned Japan’s plans to boost defence spending, accusing Tokyo of raising regional tensions under the pretext of safeguarding national security.

In a statement issued on Saturday, Geng Yansheng, defence ministry spokesman, said China “resolutely opposes” Japan’s five-year defence plan, accusing its Asian neighbour of maintaining a “Cold War mentality”.

Geng accused Japan of manufacturing fears of Chinese aggression and denying responsibility for having invaded China and other countries in the last century.

Japan “continues to deny its history of World War II aggression, challenge the post-war order, and harm the feelings of the people of those victimised nations,” Geng said.

“We urge Japan to reflect deeply on its history, strictly adhere to its commitment to peaceful development, and take concrete measures to improve relations with its neighbours to play a constructive role in maintaining regional peace and development,” Geng said.

Geng was referring to  Japan’s imperial occupation of China, starting with the invasion of Manchuria in 1931, to Japan’s surrender after the end of World War II in 1945. Japan has refused to apologise for the atrocities committed by its soldiers during that period.

The statement marks the latest salvo in the ongoing string of accusations over who is responsible for a sharp rise in tensions in the East China Sea.

Last Tuesday, Japan said it would lift military spending by 2.6 percent over five years, buying early-warning planes, beach-assault vehicles and troop-carrying aircraft.

It was seen as the clearest sign since Prime Minister Shinzo Abe took office a year ago that he wants to raise Japan’s military profile to meet what he says is a threat from China’s rapid military build-up.

Hawkish stance

China’s military has taken an increasingly hawkish stance amid a bitter dispute with Tokyo over uninhabited islands in the sea controlled by Japan but claimed by China.

Japan’s nationalisation of the islands in September 2012 sparked violent demonstrations in several Chinese cities.

In the months since, Chinese patrol vessels have routinely confronted Japanese ships in the area.

Under the new Japanese defence plan, the country will purchase its first surveillance drones, more jet fighters and naval destroyers, and set up an amphibious unit similar to the US Marines in the next five years.

Broader defence programme guidelines, also adopted on Tuesday, say Japan is “gravely concerned” about China’s growing maritime and military presence in the East China Sea, and its lack of transparency and “high-handed” approach.

Late last month, China said all aircraft entering a vast zone over the East China sea must identify themselves and follow China’s instructions.

 

HRW says Egypt broadens opposition crackdown – Middle East – Al Jazeera English

HRW says Egypt broadens opposition crackdown – Middle East – Al Jazeera English.

Several prominent secular activists have been arrested in the past three weeks [Al Jazeera]
Human Rights Watch has denounced the arrest of a prominent Egyptian activist during a raid by security forces on a domestic human rights organisation, which it described as a continuation of a crackdown on dissent.Police broke into the offices of the Egyptian Centre for Economic and Social Rights late Thursday and arrested six of its members who were blindfolded and detained in an undisclosed place for nine hours. Five of them were later released.

Mohamed Adel, a founding member of the April 6 movement that contributed to the 2011 revolt against Hosni Mubarak, remains in custody.

Police have in the past three weeks also gone after three other prominent activists of the Egyptian protest movement; Alaa Abdelfattah, Ahmed Maher and Ahmad Douma.

Sarah Leah Whitson, the Middle East and North Africa director at HRW, said the pursuit of the activists is a deliberate effort to target “voices who demand justice and security agency reform”.

“It should come as no surprise that with the persecution of the Muslim Brotherhood well underway, the Ministry of Interior is now targeting leaders of the secular protest movement,” Whitson said in a statement released on Saturday.

“The Egyptian government has sent a strong signal with its attack on a human rights group, and these arrests and prosecutions, that it is not in the mood for dissent of any kind,” Whitson said.

Anti-protest law

With Adel’s arrest, the number of prominent political activists arrested by Egypt’s security forces in the past three years has risen to a total of five.

Ahmed Maher, founder of the April 6 youth movement and a 2011 nominee for the Nobel Peace Prize, is among those put in jail since the government passed a law outlawing the calling for protests without first attaining approvals from the Ministry of Interior.

Along with Adel, Maher and activist Ahmed Douma are on trial on charges relating to a protest on November 30, with a verdict scheduled for December 22.

Prosecutors also recently referred Alaa Abdelfattah, one of the most vocal critics of the police and the military, to trial on charges of organising a demonstration without notification.

Human Rights Watch accused the police of using “the deeply repressive” law to arrest scores of political activists on grounds that they failed to seek advance permission for their demonstrations.

“The government claims that, instead of criminal penalties, the new law sets fines – of 10,000 – 30,000 Egyptian Pounds (US$ $1,500 – 4,300) under article 21 – for failing to get advance permission,” the HRW statement said, adding: “Yet the new law incorporates the existing restrictive assembly laws, including Law 14 of 1923, which carries with it a prison sentence for participation in an unauthorised demonstration.”

 

Canada lifts all restrictions on prostitution – Americas – Al Jazeera English

Canada lifts all restrictions on prostitution – Americas – Al Jazeera English.

Landmark ruling comes 34 years after the Supreme Court last upheld Canada’s anti-prostitution laws [Reuters]
Canada’s top court has overturned all restrictions on prostitution, declaring that existing laws violated sex workers’ right to safety.The Supreme Court of Canada struck down bans on brothels, street solicitation, and living on the earnings of prostitution in a unanimous 9-0 decision on Friday, and gave the Canadian government one year to re-write the country’s prostitution laws.

The impugned laws deprive people engaged in a risky, but legal, activity of the means to protect themselves against those risks.Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin.

While prostitution itself is technically legal in Canada, most prostitution-related activities were previously considered criminal offences.

In the decision, Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin said many prostitutes “have no meaningful choice” but to “engage in the risky economic activity of prostitution,” and that the law should not make such activities more dangerous.

“It makes no difference that the conduct of pimps and johns is the immediate source of the harms suffered by prostitutes,” McLachlin wrote.

“The impugned laws deprive people engaged in a risky, but legal, activity of the means to protect themselves against those risks.”

The legal challenge to Canada’s prostitution laws was brought by a group of sex workers who argued that the now-overturned restrictions put them in danger.

Katrina Pacey, a lawyer for the petitioners, called it “an unbelievably important day for the sex workers but also for human rights.”

“The court recognized that sex workers have the right to protect themselves and their safety,” she said.

Last year, a lower court in the province of Ontario struck down the ban on brothels on the grounds that it exposed sex workers to more danger.

Friday’s ruling comes 34 years after the Supreme Court last upheld Canada’s anti-prostitution laws.

Prostitution is legal in much of Europe and Latin America, and brothels are legal in numerous countries, including the Netherlands, Germany and Switzerland.

 

S&P cuts EU rating over tense budget talks – Europe – Al Jazeera English

S&P cuts EU rating over tense budget talks – Europe – Al Jazeera English.

S&P said that cohesion among EU members had lessened [GETTY]
Standard & Poor’s has downgraded the European Union’s long-term credit rating, stripping the bloc of the highest grade of AAA to AA+, citing rising tensions on budget negotiations.The move follows cuts to the ratings of EU member states in recent months.

The credit rating agency said on Friday that a bitter battle over the EU budget and worsening creditworthiness of its members are behind the decision to decrease the bloc’s long-term issuer credit rating by one grade.

“In our opinion, the overall creditworthiness of the now 28 EU member states has declined,” S&P said in a statement.

“In our view, EU budgetary negotiations have become more contentious, signaling what we consider to be rising risks to the support of the EU from some member states.”

S&P said cohesion among EU members had lessened and that some might baulk at funding the EU budget on a pro-rata basis.

Average rating of contributors dropped

The average rating of net contributors to the EU budget has fallen to AA+ from AA since January 2012, when S&P revised its outlook on the long-term EU rating to negative, the company said.

S&P has had a negative outlook on the EU since that date and has since cut its ratings on members France, Italy, Spain, Malta, Slovenia, Cyprus and the Netherlands.

The EU is not a sovereign but it can borrow in its own name. As of this month, it had outstanding loans of 56 billion euros ($76.5 billion), according to S&P.

The credit-rating agency said its downgrade of The Netherlands last month left the EU with six AAA-rated members. Since 2007, revenues contributed by AAA-rated sovereigns as a proportion of total EU revenues nearly halved to 31.6 percent, it added.

 

Raising Resistance – Witness – Al Jazeera English

Raising Resistance – Witness – Al Jazeera English.

A Paraguayan farmer’s fight against agricultural corporations destroying the livelihoods of many like him.

 Last updated: 19 Dec 2013 10:29
Filmmakers: David Bernet and Bettina Borgfeld 

Raising Resistance explores Paraguayan farmers’ struggle against the expanding production of genetically modified soy in South America.

Biotechnology, mechanisation, and herbicides have radically changed the lives of small farmers, known as campesinos, across Latin America. For farmers in Paraguay this means displacement from their land, loss of basic food supplies, and a veritable fight for survival.

Geronimo Arevalos, a small farmer, together with some other farmers, stands defiantly in a corporate-owned soy field adjacent to his own, blocking a tractor from spraying herbicides that will decimate his crops and expose nearby families to toxic chemicals.

As corporate farms seize farmland and rapidly expand production of genetically modified soy, Geronimo and the campesinos find themselves in a life and death struggle. This film illustrates the mechanisms of a global economy that relies on monocrop agriculture (the practice of growing a single crop year after year on the same land), and corporate ownership of land, at the expense of the individual and small rural communities.

In telling the story of Paraguay, Raising Resistance poses the larger question of whether the global community wants to go on living with a system that allows one crop to prosper at the expense of all others.

Filmmakers’ view

For many campesinos – or farmers – in Paraguay, the expansion of soy fields is like a large, heavy barrel rolling towards them. It takes away the land on which they live and the air they breathe.

The problem of expanding soy fields affects many South American rural populations, not just in Paraguay. In our film, Raising Resistance , we identify a fundamental level of social conflict. It is a conflict that has an archetypal character because it takes place in many regions around the world where the global production of raw materials is the most important factor, while smaller interests are secondary.

For us, it painfully expresses one of the harsh truths of our civilisation – those who have the technological advantage will use it, no matter who suffers as a result.

Around the time we first travelled to Paraguay, the rural population had just decided to begin resisting the soy field expansion. Across the country, groups of campesinos put up their plastic tents in front of the soy fields in an effort to halt soy farming which was damaging their own crops and destroying their communities.

Before our very eyes, the rather abstract connection between the production of raw materials, agricultural chemistry and land conflict suddenly had faces, voices and feelings – and we felt what we saw had to be made into a film. We wanted to show that the campesinos also have the right to exist and feed their families.

The problem of the expanding production of genetically modified crops is not just limited to rural areas of Paraguay. The expansion of raw material production is going on in all regions of the world. At one point in the film, Geronimo, our main protagonist, predicts, “There will be collisions … violent conflicts … maybe even war”.

We believe the escalation Geronimo predicted at that time points far beyond this film and beyond Paraguay. We also believe that battles will happen wherever people are fighting for a basic livelihood and dignity.

After we left Paraguay and flew back to Germany to edit our film, we tried our best to create a film that not only presented a subject well but that helps our audience to see, hear and feel what the campesinos are experiencing.

In Pictures:

 

Raising Resistance  can be seen from Wednesday, December 18, at the following times GMT: Wednesday: 2000; Thursday: 1200; Friday: 0100; Saturday: 0600; Sunday: 2000; Monday: 1200; Tuesday: 0100.

Watch more Witness

 

Egypt’s Morsi charged with ‘terrorist acts’ – Middle East – Al Jazeera English

Egypt’s Morsi charged with ‘terrorist acts’ – Middle East – Al Jazeera English.

 

Morsi supporters protested outside the court where the deposed president faced the initial charges [EPA]
Egypt’s deposed President Mohamed Morsi will stand trial on charges of “conspiring with foreign groups” to commit “terrorist acts.”Morsi, toppled by the military in July and already on trial for alleged involvement in the killings of opposition protesters, was also accused on Wednesday of divulging “secrets of defence to foreign countries” and “funding terrorism for militant training to fulfil the goals of the International Organisation of the Muslim Brotherhood”, according to a prosecutor document seen by Al Jazeera sources.

Spotlight

Follow our ongoing coverage of the political crisis in Egypt

Egypt’s public prosecutor ordered Morsi and 35 co-accused to stand trial on charges including conspiring with foreign organisations to commit terrorist acts in Egypt and divulging military secrets to a foreign state.

In a statement, the prosecutor said that Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood had committed acts of violence and terrorism in Egypt and prepared a “terrorist plan” that included an alliance with the Palestinian group Hamas and Lebanon’s Hezbollah.

Some defendants, including Essam Haddad, Morsi’s second in command when president, were also accused of betraying state secrets to Iran’s Revolutionary Guards.

The prosecution also alleged Muslim Brotherhood involvement in a surge of attacks on soldiers and police following Morsi’s overthrow, centred mostly in the restive Sinai Peninsula.

Prosecutors say the intention of the attacks was to “bring back the deposed president and to bring Egypt back into the Muslim Brotherhood’s grip”.

Al Jazeera’s Peter Greste, reporting from Cairo, said the charges were tantamount to a series of very serious treason charges, which carry the death penalty in Egypt.

“I suspect a lot of Morsi’s supporters will see these as outlandish charges designed to try to sideline the opposition once and for all,” he said.

Mohamed Al Damaty, the spokesman of Morsi’s defence team told Al Jazeera that they had not seen the court documents relating to the case.

“We did not receive the court documents to this case,” he said.

“We don’t know further details and there is a gag order on this case by the prosecutor banning media from publishing its details for what they call endangering national security. No date for the trial has been set yet.”

Jailbreak connection 

The trial appears to stem from an investigation into prison breaks during a 2011 uprising against strongman Hosni Mubarak, when Morsi and other prisoners escaped, AFP reports.

Prosecutors have alleged the jailbreaks were carried out by Palestinian and Lebanese armed groups, who had members imprisoned under Mubarak.

Al Jazeera sources said that prosecutor copy labelled the trial as the “biggest case in Egypt’s history of conspiring against Egypt.”

According to the text, the Muslim Brotherhood had been involved in smuggling weapons and allowing its members to enter Gaza through tunnels in the Sinai to receive training from factions of Hezbollah and Iranians.

It also said members had received training on communication and dealing with media through communication with the West through Qatar and Turkey.

 

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