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Posts Tagged ‘tense’

S.Korea readies major military drill near tense border

In Uncategorized on December 24, 2010 at 4:29 am

SEOUL, Dec 22, 2010 (AFP) – South Korea prepared Wednesday for a major live-fire drill involving fighter jets and tanks near the tense North Korean border, as Seoul and Washington reacted warily to overtures from Pyongyang.

South Korea’s military said Thursday’s ground and air firing exercise 20 kilometres (12 miles) south of the mainland border would also involve self-propelled guns and 800 soldiers.

The South Korean Navy MSB (Movement Sea Base) floats off the coast of South Korea-controlled island of Yeonpyeong near the disputed waters of the Yellow Sea on December 22, 2010. AFP

Although similar drills have been held at the same firing range at Pocheon many times before, the latest exercise comes with Seoul on high alert for a possible attack from its wayward neighbour.

South Korea’s navy meanwhile began a four-day firing drill Wednesday off the east coast, a relatively distant 100 kilometres (60 miles) south of the border with the North, mobilising six warships plus helicopters.

The military said it would practise responses to intrusions by North Korean submarines and patrol boats.

And South Korean marines were posted to guard a Christmas tree that was lit up Tuesday near the land border, reflecting fears that the North might fire on the display as a propaganda symbol.

Tensions have been high since the North shelled an island near the contested western maritime border last month in response to a live-fire drill by the South. The bombardment of Yeonpyeong killed four people including civilians.

The South staged a repeat drill on Yeonpyeong Monday but the North did not go through with threats to hit back, saying it “did not feel any need to retaliate against every despicable military provocation”.

A senior South Korean military commander said Thursday’s drill at the Pocheon range would “demonstrate our solid military preparedness”.

“We will retaliate thoroughly if the North commits another provocative act like the shelling of Yeonpyeong,” First Armoured Battalion commander Choo Eun-Sik told Yonhap news agency.

The North’s comments late Monday eased fears of war on the peninsula, and it also reportedly offered nuclear concessions to visiting US politician Bill Richardson.

But Seoul and Washington have expressed scepticism about the apparent overtures, coming after an intense bout of sabre-rattling from Pyongyang, whose hardline communist regime is undergoing a generational power shift.

The United States said that North Korea was not even “remotely ready” to resume six-nation nuclear disarmament talks, despite the apparent concessions offered to New Mexico Governor Richardson on his private trip.

The White House made clear there was no change to US policy, despite Pyongyang’s reported offer to re-admit UN nuclear inspectors and sell off fuel rods which could be used to produce plutonium.

President Barack Obama’s spokesman Robert Gibbs said Pyongyang had, over many years and different US administrations, failed to match its words with actions.

“We’re not going to get a table and a room and have six-party talks just for the feel-good notion of having six-party talks,” he said.

“When and if the North Koreans are ever serious about living up to their obligations, then we can think about restarting six-party talks.”

North Korea pulled out of the nuclear talks — which involve the two Koreas, the United States, Russia, China, and Japan — in April 2009 and ordered UN nuclear inspectors out of the country.

It staged a second nuclear test a month later.

Its disclosure last month of an advanced uranium enrichment plant — purportedly to serve a peaceful nuclear power programme — heightened regional security fears.

Richardson, a veteran troubleshooter with the North who was formerly a US ambassador to the UN, unveiled Pyongyang’s apparent concessions after a visit that the White House stressed was unofficial and independent.

Source: SGGP

Egypt security on alert ahead of tense election

In Uncategorized on November 27, 2010 at 1:50 pm

Egyptian security forces were on high alert Saturday, on the eve of a general election, after activists clashed with police at the end of a campaign marred by violence and a crackdown on the opposition.

Egyptian protesters stand on a security fence under the watchfull eyes of the riot police during a demonstration organized by the Muslim Brotherhood in downtown Cairo, May 2010.

Thousands of activists demonstrated in support of their candidates throughout the Nile Delta and in the south of the country as campaigning for the vote came to an end on Friday night, said security officials.

Several of the rallies turned violent after supporters of rival candidates hurled stones at each other, they said.

Activists for the banned Muslim Brotherhood opposition group clashed with police in the southern Bani Suef governorate, and at least 15 protesters were arrested.

Abdel Moneim Abdel Maqsud, a lawyer for the Islamist group, said 22 of its members were arrested on Friday across the country.

The Brotherhood is expected to win far less than the fifth of parliamentary seats it captured in the last election in 2005, after at least 1,200 its supporters were arrested in the weeks before the vote.

Most of them have been released, but the group says more of its supporters are rounded up each day as they put up posters and hand out fliers.

The Brotherhood is fielding 130 candidates for the 508 elected seats after more than a dozen of its candidates were disqualified by the election committee.

The public prosecutor is investigating complaints by the ruling National Democratic Party that more of the Islamists should be disqualified because they are misrepresenting themselves as independents.

The group registers its candidates as independents to circumvent a ban on religious parties.

Several administrative courts have ordered the cancellation of elections in 24 of 254 districts after court orders to reinstate disqualified candidates, many of them Brotherhood members and other independents, were ignored.

Rights groups say the election has already been compromised by the arrests of opposition members and campaign restrictions on their candidates.

Amnesty International called on Egyptian authorities to safeguard the rights of voters in the election.

“The Egyptian authorities must uphold the rights to freedom of expression, association and assembly and ensure that peaceful protesters are not arbitrarily arrested and detained,” the London-based rights group’s Middle East director, Malcolm Smart, said in a statement last week.

Voter turnout is expected to be low as usual in Egypt, where elections are often marred by violence and ballot fraud, according to rights groups.

The government insists the election will be fair and the electoral committee says it granted more than 6,000 permits to local civil society groups to monitor the vote and the ballot counting.

The NDP, which has dominated parliament for more than three decades, is expected to gain seats in parliament at the expense of the Brotherhood. It is running about 800 candidates.

Campaign restrictions on the remaining Brotherhood candidates and a low voter turnout amid fears of violence and widespread suspicion about the election’s integrity are expected to reduce the Islamists’ share.


Source: SGGP

Ukraine vote heads for tense run-off

In World on January 18, 2010 at 2:58 pm

Pro-Russian politician Viktor Yanukovich won the first round of presidential elections in Ukraine and was set to head for a nail-biting runoff with Prime Minister Yulia Timoshenko who came in second, results showed with half the votes counted Monday.

Ukrainian opposition leader and presidential candidate Viktor Yanukovych speaks to the media during his news conference in Kiev, Ukraine, Sunday, Jan. 17, 2010. (AFP Photo)

Yanukovich was about 12 points ahead of Timoshenko with 36.86 percent to her 24.31 percent, according to the results after 50.31 percent of the votes had been counted.

Third place went to ex-banker Sergiy Tigipko who had around 13 percent.

Discredited Orange Revolution hero President Viktor Yushchenko was eliminated after coming in fifth with a mere 4.87 percent of the vote.

Yanukovich was the man accused of rigging 2004 elections which sparked the Orange Revolution uprising that swept the old order from power.

Tymoshenko, a former Orange Revolution comrade of Yushchenko, subsequently fell out with the president and adopted a more pragmatic tone on relations with Russia.

As Yanukovich failed to win a majority in Sunday’s first round, the election will go to a second round on February 7 with all to play for between the two old foes who have savaged each other’s reputation in the campaign.

Yushchenko’s miserable score was a reflection of Ukraine’s frustration that the Orange Revolution failed to realise the dreams of those who protested in 2004.

Turnout was 66.68 percent, the central electoral commission said.

Related article: Row over Georgian ‘observers’ inflames Ukraine vote

“If Tymoshenko is less than 10 percent behind then her chances of winning in the second round climb sharply,” said analyst Igor Zhdanov of the Open Policy think tank.

Businessman Tigipko made a late campaign surge and his electorate will now prove crucial in determining the second round outcome, as the two frontrunners bare their teeth.

“Yanukovich, who represents criminal circles, has no chance” in the second round, said the prime minister at her post-election news conference, resplendent in a pure white costume.

Her opponent snapped back that Ukrainians had voted for change and said that Tymoshenko was “in despair”.

The second round promises to be a gloves-off affair and analysts have warned of the risk of the result being taken to the courts and even once more sparking street protests.

The bitter campaign has already seen the shady pasts of the candidates once again dredged up.

Yanukovich was jailed twice in the Soviet era for theft and assault, though the convictions were erased in the late 1970s. Tymoshenko herself was briefly detained in 2001 on smuggling charges that were later quashed.

The 2004 Orange Revolution raised hopes of a new era free of Kremlin influence for the country of 46 million that would set a precedent for other former Soviet states.

Related article: Ukrainians brave snow, cynicism to vote

But although Ukraine now boasts improved freedom of speech, steps to implement reform and end corruption were forgotten as government became paralysed in a bitter power struggle between Yushchenko and Tymoshenko.

Tymoshenko, famed for her peasant-style blonde hair braid, is seen as more in favour of EU integration than Yanukovich but has also played up her close ties to Russian strongman Prime Minister Vladimir Putin.

Since 2004, Yanukovich has sought to reinvent himself with the help of Western PR strategists and to show he is not a servant of the Kremlin but a defender of Ukrainian interests.

He has also sought more support in the country’s Ukrainian-speaking west — traditionally the heartland of Tymoshenko and Yushchenko supporters — while holding on to his powerbase in the Russian-speaking east.

Source: SGGP Bookmark & Share

Tense talks as gunmen hold 57 Philippine hostages

In World on December 11, 2009 at 10:22 am

Tense negotiations to free 57 people held captive by tribal gunmen wanted for murder in the volatile southern Philippines entered their second day Friday, amid signs of a breakthrough.

Philippine soldiers patrol Mindanao island (AFP Photo).

The gunmen, members of the indigenous Manobo tribe, said they were willing to free the hostages who spent the night in a mountain hideout surrounded by security forces, negotiator Josefina Bajade said.

“They are okay and alive,” Bajade said of the hostages, who were among 75 people, including school children, initially seized by the group from a village in Prosperidad town on Mindanao island Thursday.

“They said they were willing to give up and release their hostages. We are optimistic they will be freed soon, hopefully within today,” Bajade told AFP.

“They are receptive to the negotiations. Our communication lines are open.”

The mass kidnapping is part of an explosion of violence that has been stunning even for the southern Philippines, a lawless region where Muslim and communist insurgents mix with warring clans, pirates and corrupt officials.

Maguindanao province on Mindanao island remained under martial law Friday following a massacre last month of 57 people allegedly by the heads of a Muslim clan that had ruled that area since 2001.

And suspected Al Qaeda-linked militants on Thursday abducted a college professor from a nearby island where they had just a day earlier severed the head of another captive, according to government officials there.

Fuelling the violence, the majority of the estimated 1.8 million unlicensed firearms in the Philippines are estimated to be in the Mindanao region.

Bajade on Friday identified those behind Thursday’s mass kidnapping as members of the Perez clan, who belong to the indigenous Manobo tribe and are wanted for a string crimes including the murder of a member of a rival family.

She said the tribesmen launched the raid to prevent police from serving arrest warrants Thursday.

Police said the kidnap leader, Ondo Perez, has demanded that arrest warrants against them be lifted, and for police to also disarm members of their rivals, the Tubay clan.

Both clans have for years been locked in a bitter land dispute in Agusan del Sur province that had led to the killing, Bajade said.

“The main demand is for police to disarm the rival family. They feel they are being singled out,” she said.

Meanwhile, security forces pressed ahead with efforts to disarm thousands of militiamen loyal to the Ampatuan clan in Maguindanao province following the November 23 massacre of 57 people there.

The Ampatuans are accused of organising the massacre to stop a rival politician from challenging for the post of provincial governor in next year’s elections.

President Gloria Arroyo imposed martial law and accused the clan, whose patriarch had been governor since 2001, of rebellion.

Arroyo had used Ampatuans to help contain Muslim separatists, allowing them to maintain a well-armed private army that is being accused of having terrorised the public.

The Moro Islamic Liberation Front is the main Muslim rebel group in Mindanao, and their insurgency has claimed more than 150,000 lives since the late 1970s, according to the military.

Source: SGGP Bookmark & Share

Thailand’s Thaksin arrives in Cambodia for tense visit

In World on November 10, 2009 at 12:55 pm

Fugitive former Thai premier Thaksin Shinawatra landed in Cambodia Tuesday to start a job as government economic adviser, escalating an already huge diplomatic row between the two countries.

Former Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra (C) walks to a car at the Phnom Penh military air base on November 10, 2009. (AFP Photo)

Thaksin, who was ousted in a coup in 2006, exited a small private airplane at Phnom Penh International Airport and was then escorted into the capital by a convoy of cars under tight security, said an AFP photographer.

Cambodia announced Thaksin’s appointment last week, sparking a dispute that has led Thailand and Cambodia to recall their respective ambassadors and has deepened tensions after a series of deadly border clashes in the past year.

Thailand has also said it could seal the frontier if Thaksin is not extradited, but Cambodian ministry of foreign affairs spokesman Kuoy Kong said his country was “not concerned about these issues”.

“We will not extradite him (Thaksin). We already clarified this case because he is a political victim,” Kuoy Kong told AFP Tuesday.

Billionaire telecoms mogul Thaksin is living in foreign locations including Dubai to avoid a two-year jail term for abuse of power handed down by a Thai court in absentia in September 2008.

He justified his trip to Cambodia — whose prime minister Hun Sen is a close friend and political ally — in an open letter published on his website late Monday.

“As I travel to Cambodia to discuss poverty and the world economic situation, I will try to preserve Thai interests with our friends in Phnom Penh, despite the Thai government still hounding me wherever I go,” he wrote.

“I will not go to Cambodia to help Cambodia fight with Thailand but to exchange views and experiences on poverty-solving as well as new regional economics.”

Thaksin, the former owner of Manchester City football club, is due to give a a speech to hundreds of Cambodian economics experts in the capital on Thursday. He has not said how long he will be in Phnom Penh.

The Thai government said it had not been officially informed of Thaksin’s arrival in Cambodia. “We want to verify the report first,” Chavanond Intarakomalyasut, secretary to Thailand’s foreign affairs minister, told AFP.

Thaksin won two elections and remains a massively influential figure in Thai politics, stirring up mass protests by so-called “Red Shirt” supporters against the current government.

His presence on Thailand’s doorstep is the closest he has come since he last fled the country in August 2008, a move that is likely to alarm the shaky 11-month-old coalition government of Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva.

Thaksin’s visit also threatens to take the shine off a summit of Southeast Asian leaders with US President Barack Obama that Abhisit is due to chair on Sunday in Singapore.

Thailand remains bitterly divided between Thaksin’s main support base among the poor, especially in rural areas, and his foes in the Bangkok-based elite power circles of the palace, military and bureaucracy.

Source: SGGP Bookmark & Share