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Phuket Gazette World News: US-Korea standoff deepens; Cuban ballet defectors, China bird flu death toll rises

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Phuket Gazette World News: US-Korea standoff deepens; Cuban ballet defectors, China bird flu death toll rises | The Thaiger
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PHUKET MEDIA WATCH

– World news compiled by Gazette editors for Phuket’s international community

U.S. to send missile defenses to Guam over North Korea threat
Reuters / Phuket Gazette

PHUKET: The United States said on Wednesday it would soon send a missile defence system to Guam to defend it from North Korea, as the U.S. military adjusts to what Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel has called a “real and clear danger” from Pyongyang.

At the same time, North Korea repeated its threat to launch a nuclear attack on the United States. Pyongyang said it had ratified a potential strike because of U.S. military deployments around the Korean peninsula that it claimed were a prelude to a possible nuclear attack on the North.

Washington had been informed of the potential attack by North Korea, a spokesman for its army said in a statement carried by the English language service of state news agency KCNA. It was unclear how such a warning was given since North Korea does not have diplomatic ties with Washington.

Experts say North Korea is years away from being able to hit the continental United States with a nuclear weapon, despite having worked for decades to achieve nuclear-arms capability.

North Korea has previously threatened a nuclear strike on the United States and missile attacks on its Pacific bases, including in Guam, a U.S. territory in the Pacific. Those threats followed new U.N. sanctions imposed on the North after it carried out its third nuclear test in February.

“Some of the actions they’ve taken over the last few weeks present a real and clear danger,” Hagel told an audience at the National Defence University in Washington.

U.S. stocks sank to their lows of the day after Hagel’s comments and the Guam deployment news.

The yield on the benchmark 10-year U.S. Treasury note briefly dropped below 1.8 percent for the first time since January as investors sought safety in government bonds, driving their prices higher. The dollar strengthened modestly against the euro and yen.

The South Korean won hit a six-month low on Wednesday.

“I would say that people are taking it a lot more seriously than they used to,” said Steve Van Order, a fixed income strategist at Calvert Investments in Maryland, referring to the tensions with North Korea.

Despite the rhetoric, Pyongyang has not taken any military action and has shown no sign of preparing its 1.2 million strong armed forces for war, the White House said on Monday.

That would indicate that its threats are partly intended for domestic consumption to bolster young leader Kim Jong-un ahead of celebrations marking the anniversary of the birthday of Kim Il-sung, the state’s founder and the younger Kim’s grandfather, on April 15.

Caitlin Hayden, spokeswoman for the White House National Security Council, criticised the latest North Korean statement.

“It is yet another offering in a long line of provocative statements that only serve to further isolate North Korea from the rest of the international community and undermine its goal of economic development,” Hayden said.

North Korea had “ratified” a merciless attack against the United States, potentially involving a “diversified nuclear strike”, the KCNA statement concluded after railing against annual war games between South Korea and the United States that run throughout April.

“The moment of explosion is approaching fast. No one can say a war will break out in Korea or not and whether it will break out today or tomorrow,” the KCNA statement said.

Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel said he had to take the threats seriously, language he has used in recent weeks as the United States has revamped its missile defence plans and positioned two guided-missile destroyers in the western Pacific to bolster missile defence.

The United States has also flexed its muscle during the military drills with South Korea, flying two radar-evading stealth bombers on a first-of-its-kind practice bombing run over South Korea.

In the latest move, the Pentagon said it was deploying a Terminal High Altitude Area Defence system to Guam in the coming weeks. The THAAD system includes a truck-mounted launcher, interceptor missiles and an AN/TPY-2 tracking radar.

Last month, Hagel said the Pentagon would add 14 new anti-missile interceptors in Alaska and move ahead with the deployment of a second missile-defence radar in Japan.

Adding to tensions, North Korea on Wednesday closed access to a joint factory zone with South Korea, putting at risk $2 billion a year in trade that is vital to the impoverished state.

It said on Tuesday it would revive a mothballed nuclear reactor able to produce bomb-grade plutonium.

Hagel called America’s responses so far “measured, responsible, serious” and also said the United States was working with allies to lower tensions.

“We are doing everything we can, working with the Chinese, others to defuse that situation on the peninsula,” he said.

In Beijing, China’s deputy foreign minister met ambassadors from the United States and both Koreas to express “serious concern” about the Korean peninsula, China’s Foreign Ministry said on Wednesday.

North Korea can likely revive reactor in six months, needs years for more bombs
Reuters / Phuket Gazette

PHUKET: North Korea can probably restart a mothballed plutonium-producing reactor in six months if it is determined to do so and the site has suffered no major structural damage, but it may take years to produce significant new atom bomb material.

Pyongyang announced on Tuesday that it would revive the aged Yongbyon five-megawatt research reactor that yields bomb-grade plutonium, but stressed it was seeking a deterrent capacity.

Several nuclear experts familiar with North Korea’s program said it would probably take the North Koreans about half a year to get the Yongbyon research reactor up and running, provided it has not suffered significant damage from neglect.

The decision to restart the reactor was the latest chapter in an escalating crisis that erupted after Pyongyang was hit with U.N. sanctions for conducting a third nuclear test in February, and the United States and South Korea staged military drills that North Korea viewed as “hostile.”

The Yongbyon reactor has been technically out of operation for years. But Siegfried Hecker – a Stanford University nuclear scientist who is believed to have been the last Westerner to visit the Yongbyon nuclear complex – said the Yongbyon research reactor has been on standby since July 2007.

“If they restart the reactor, which I estimate will take them at least six months, they can produce about six kilograms of plutonium (roughly one bomb’s worth) per year,” Hecker said in an interview published on Tuesday on a Stanford website.

He said that it would take the North approximately three to four years before it could get another 12kg of plutonium, which would suffice for two more weapons.

Satellite images published by 38North, a specialist North Korea website (click here), showed new construction activity at the reactor site from early February until the end of March. It said the imagery indicated that construction had begun along a roadway and toward the back of the reactor building.

No foreign help needed, experts say

Isolated North Korea occasionally lets nuclear experts like Hecker into the country,

— Phuket Gazette Editors

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Coronavirus spreads north and south in China – 139 new cases reported

The Thaiger

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Coronavirus spreads north and south in China – 139 new cases reported | The Thaiger
PHOTO: New cases reported over the weekend are concerning health offficials - BBC.com

Another 139 new cases of a flu-like disease caused by a new strain of coronavirus in China has shocked health officials. There’s also been a third confirmed death reported today. Worse, the outbreak has now spread beyond Wuhan in central China where the virus was first identified. There have been cases reported in Beijing, a province next door to Shanghai and Shenzhen in southern China.

Health authorities in Beijing have now confirmed two cases of the new coronavirus today, while Guangdong authorities in southern China reported one new case in Shenzhen as well. The Shenzhen case is the first confirmation that the virus has spread domestically beyond Wuhan.

The Wuhan Health Commission announced today that 136 new patients had been diagnosed over the weekend – 1 person died from the virus, 2 remain in critical condition, 33 are in serious condition. All three patients that have died are believed to have visited Wuhan in the last month or so.

The new cases have brought the total number of people diagnosed with the virus in China to 201. That’s a big jump over numbers reported over the weekend.

Meanwhile, health authorities in Shenzhen, bordering Hong Kong, say they are monitoring eight patient. All eight have been quarantined for treatment. In coastal Zhejiang province, bordering Shanghai, authorities have now reported five new suspected cases who have been confirmed to have visited Wuhan. Last week, three cases were detected outside China — two in Thailand and one in Japan. All cases have been linked to Wuhan. On Monday, South Korea also confirmed its first case of the virus.

The Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market at the centre of the pneumonia outbreak in he city of tWuhan has been closed for disinfection since January 1.

Meanwhile, Thai officials are stepping up screening efforts with many flights flying in from Wuhan over the next few weeks for the Chinese New Year holidays. Health officials say they’re confident that their screening efforts will detect any infected passengers getting off flights at Thai airports.

SOURCE: CNN

Coronavirus spreads north and south in China - 139 new cases reported | News by The Thaiger

GRAPHIC: Bangkok Post

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More coronavirus cases detected in China, global alert for Chinese New Year

The Thaiger

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More coronavirus cases detected in China, global alert for Chinese New Year | The Thaiger
PHOTO: The Conversation

Chinese medical officials have now reported four more cases of the viral pneumonia strain caused by a new coronavirus. The discoveries are causing rising concern that the disease is not fully understand and could spread during the upcoming Chinese New Year holidays.

The new virus, originating in the Chinese city of Wuhan – the apparent epicentre of the outbreak – is believed to belong in the same class of coronaviruses that includes the deadly SARS virus (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome), which killed nearly 800 people around the world in 2002/03. That outbreak also started in China.

At this stage all signs are that the virus isn’t as lethal as SARS, but there is still little known about the coronavirus’ origins and how it is transmitted. But it has been established at this stage that it is not spread human to human.

Both Thailand and Japan have confirmed new cases of the virus. In Thailand the patient was detected when arriving on a flight from Wuhan. And Japan’s health ministry reported that a man who had visited the central Chinese city of Wuhan was hospitalised on January 10, four days after his return to Japan.

Both patients have fully recovered.

The new cases detected in China, and the cases detected overseas, are stoking global concerns as many of the 1.4 billion Chinese will head overseas during the Chinese New Year holidays that begin next week and run through to early February.

The Wuhan Health Commission reports that the the four new cases are now in stable condition. 45 cases have been reported in the city as of last Thursday. A second patient died on Wednesday this week. Nearly 50 people are now known to have been infected globally, but all of them either lived in Wuhan or have travelled to the city.

The London Imperial College’s MRC Center for Global Infectious Disease Analysis speculates that there are probably “substantially more cases” of the new coronavirus than currently declared by Wuhan authorities. Their modelling estimates that there would be 1,723 cases showing onset of related symptoms by the second week in January.

Meanwhile US authorities say they are now screening at three airports to detect passengers arriving via direct or connecting flights from Wuhan. And in Asia, authorities in Singapore, South Korea, Taiwan and Thailand are stepping up monitoring of travellers from Wuhan at airports.

SOURCE: Reuters | Science Alert

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Thailand

Dutchman jailed for 100 years in Thailand for money laundering is released

Greeley Pulitzer

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Dutchman jailed for 100 years in Thailand for money laundering is released | The Thaiger
PHOTO: Johan van Laarhoven walks free after serving six years of a 100 year sentence in Thai prison - The Chiang Rai Times

A Dutch citizen who was jailed for 100 years in Thailand, is now on his way home after years of campaigning for his release. His sentence was reduced to 75 years on appeal and later to 50 years by the Supreme court. Johan van Laarhoven, who ran several cannabis “coffee shops” in Holland, was jailed in Thailand for money laundering, along with his Thai wife, though the offences took place in The Netherlands.

Thai authorities began investigating Van Laarhoven in 2014 after a letter from a Dutch public prosecutor’s office, informing them that he had earned his money selling marijuana and requesting their help. Last year, MPs called on the government to to extradite Van Laarhoven and his wife back to Netherlands. The Dutch justice minister even met with PM Prayut Chan-o-cha and the Justice Minister Somsak Thepsutin to discuss the case.

Even though cannabis is legal in the Netherlands, Dutch officials bungled a tax query to Thai authorities regarding the sale of the Dutchman’s cannabis cafe chain. This led to a criminal investigation and his televised arrest in Thailand.

Thai authorities seized the Dutchman’s assets and he was sentenced to 100 years in prison. His young Thai wife, Mingkwan, was jailed for 13 years as an accomplice. The Netherlands has an extradition treaty with Thailand, but it can only be implemented after a case has been ruled “definitive.” Van Laarhoven’s sentence was upheld late last year, clearing the way for a diplomatic solution. It’s unclear whether his wife will be allowed to join him in the Netherlands.

Once back, Van Laarhoven will spend two years in a Dutch jail to complete his sentence, and also face criminal investigation for money laundering. The investigation will focus on tax fraud, membership in a criminal organisation and laundering €20m (675 million baht) according to a Dutch public prosecutor.

SOURCE: The Chiang Rai Times | Dutchnews.nl

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