– World news compiled by Gazette editors for Phuket’s international community
PHUKET: Russian President Vladimir Putin laughed off a protest against him by topless women in Germany on Monday, joking that he liked what he had seen while sharply rebuffing German criticism of his human rights record.
Three members of the women’s rights group Femen, which has staged protests against Russia’s detention of the feminist punk band Pussy Riot around Europe, disrupted his visit to a trade fair in the German city of Hanover focusing on Russian business.
They stripped to the waist and shouted slogans calling the Russian leader a “dictator” before being covered up and bundled away by security men.
“Regarding this performance, I liked it,” grinned Putin at a joint news conference with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, adding that it had helped to promote the trade fair though he suggested that the security men could have been “gentler”.
“I did not catch what they were shouting, I did not even see if they were blondes, brunettes or chestnut-haired… I don’t see anything terrible in (the protest), though I think… it is better to be dressed if one wants to discuss political matters.”
Earlier, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov accused the protesters of “hooliganism” and said they should be punished.
Merkel, who grew up in communist East Germany, said people in a free society had the right to protest.
Putin and Merkel, who also held talks in Hanover on Sunday, want to further boost booming economic ties but the German leader also repeated her concerns about human rights in Russia after raids by Russian authorities on German and other non-governmental organisations based in the country.
A new law on NGOs requires them to register as “foreign agents” if they have foreign funding and are deemed to be involved in politics, something many prominent groups have refused to do on the grounds that they are not acting on behalf of other nations and are not trying to influence Russian politics.
For many, the term evokes Soviet-era oppression and Cold War espionage.
NGOs “free” to operate
Putin, a former KGB agent who worked in East Germany in the 1980s and speaks fluent German, denied that the Kremlin was trying to muzzle the NGOs and said Moscow just wanted to monitor the amounts of foreign funding coming into Russia.
“All our actions are connected not with closing and forbidding (foreign-funded NGOs in Russia), but with monitoring financial flows that go to non-governmental Russian organisations which are involved in internal political activity, and this money comes from outside of the country,” he said.
“Regarding the freedom of work of these organisations, it is not limited at all. They only have to register.”
Putin said nearly 1 billion dollars had flowed to Russian NGOs in just four months since Moscow approved the new law – a figure swiftly queried by NGOs in Moscow.
“The talk of $1 billion (29 billion baht) is a lie,” Pavel Chikov, the head of Agora, a Russian legal aid NGO, said on Twitter.
Merkel reiterated her government’s criticism of the clampdown on NGOs, which have included several German foundations.
“This is about NGOs being able to work well and freely … A lively civil society can only emerge when individuals can operate without fear or worry, of course on the basis of law,” Merkel said.
The German chancellor added: “For Germany, Russia is an important strategic partner. We have the most intensive contacts that we would like to continue.”
PHUKET: North Korean labourers did not show up for work on Tuesday at a factory complex operated with South Korea, companies with operations there said, effectively shutting down the zone for the first time since it began shipments in 2004.
Pyongyang’s decision to halt work at the Kaesong industrial park coincided with speculation it would carry out a missile launch, or even another nuclear test, in what has become one of the worst periods of tension on the peninsula since the end of the Korean War in 1953.
About 475 South Korean workers and factory managers remain in Kaesong, a few kilometres inside the border with North Korea. The South Korean government said 77 would return on Tuesday.
Many South Koreans have been reluctant to leave, worried about the impact on their companies and jobs.
“North Korean workers didn’t come to work today, and production has halted in our Kaesong facilities,” said a spokeswoman for Shinwon, a women’s clothing maker.
A spokesman for textile company Taekwang Industrial and at least two other firms also said North Koreans workers did not show up on Tuesday and that production had stopped.
More than 100 representatives from businesses operating at Kaesong were holding an emergency meeting at the complex that started at about 0100 GMT, Reuters witnesses said.
An executive at another South Korean apparel firm running a factory in Kaesong said late on Monday his employees had told him they would stay.
“I don’t know what to do, honestly. I can’t simply tell my workers to leave or stay,” said the executive, who requested anonymity.
Tension has been rising since the United Nations imposed new sanctions on the North for carrying out its third nuclear test in February. Pyongyang has been further angered by weeks of military exercises by South Korean and U.S. forces and threatened both countries with nuclear attack.
Few experts had expected Pyongyang to jeopardise Kaesong, which accounts for $2 billion in annual trade and employs 50,000 North Koreans making household goods for 123 South Korean firms.
North Korea said on Monday it would suspend operations at the park, its sole remaining major project with the South. No decision had been made on closing Kaesong permanently, it said.
“They’re using this as shock therapy because, regardless of what they say, if they close Kaesong the damage they will sustain will not be small,” said Moon Seong-mook, a retired South Korean brigadier general who took part in previous military talks with the North.
“This is just another negotiating card they can use with South Korea.”
The North’s official KCNA news agency said Seoul was trying to “turn the zone into a hotbed of war” against the North. It did not elaborate.
North Korea has also bridled at suggestions from Seoul that it would keep the park open because it needed the cash. The zone generates more than $80 million a year in cash in wages – paid to the state rather than to the workers.
South Korean firms pay between $8 million and $9 million in wages a month for about 53,000 North Korean workers in Kaesong. Any delay in payment of those wages could become another flashpoint because the North could demand payment of interest on the delayed wages, Yonhap reported.
The turmoil has hit South Korean financial markets, which have usually shrugged off the North’s rhetoric.
Seoul stocks have fallen nearly 3 percent since Wednesday, when the North first blocked access to the zone amid steep foreign selling. Shares in some firms known to have operations in Kaesong fell sharply on Tuesday.
The won currency has fallen by more than 2 percent against the dollar si
— Phuket Gazette Editors
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