Shh…! S. Korea hushes for crucial exam

SEOUL: South Korea dialled down the volume yesterday as more than half a million students sat a crucial national university entrance exam, with authorities taking extraordinary measures to minimise possible distractions. The college entrance test is the culmination of South Korea’s highly demanding school system. In an ultra-competitive society the rite of passage plays a […]

Five Saudi officials face death penalty for Khashoggi murder

RIYADH: Five Saudi officials face the death penalty for the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi who was dismembered inside the kingdom’s Istanbul consulate, but Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman was not involved, the prosecutor said Thursday. The announcement follows growing international outcry over the killing of Khashoggi, a Washington Post columnist and critic of the […]

Bangladesh calls off Rohingya repatriations

COX’S BAZAR, Bangladesh: Frightened and angry Rohingya refugees yesterday forced Bangladesh to call off efforts to start sending back some of the hundreds of thousands of the stateless Muslims to Myanmar, casting fresh doubt on a disputed repatriation programme. Hundreds staged a demonstration near the Myanmar border shouting ‘we will not go’ on the day the […]

Thailand takes over Asean chair, haunted by past summit chaos

SINGAPORE: Protests, broken windows and dignitaries forced to flee by helicopter – Thailand’s last stint as host of Southeast Asia’s biggest summit was devoured by political chaos. But as the chairmanship of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) passed yesterday from Singapore to Thailand, Bangkok is hoping unrest will not spoil its year in the […]

Sri Lankan parliament decends into chaos 

COLOMBO: Sri Lanka’s parliament descended into chaos yesterday with MPs swinging punches and throwing projectiles a day after legislators voted the prime minister out of office. “It was difficult to make out immediately who was hitting whom, but several were hurt, but not seriously,” an official in parliament told AFP. “The speaker adjourned the House temporarily.” […]

Five Saudi officials face death penalty for Khashoggi murder

RIYADH: Five Saudi officials face the death penalty for the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi who was dismembered inside the kingdom’s Istanbul consulate, but Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman was not involved, the prosecutor said Thursday.

The announcement follows growing international outcry over the killing of Khashoggi, a Washington Post columnist and critic of the Saudi rulers who was last seen entering the consulate on October 2 to obtain paperwork for his marriage.

Khashoggi died after being drugged and then dismembered, a spokesman for the public prosecutor’s office said in the first Saudi confirmation of how he was killed.

The journalist’s body parts were then handed over to an agent outside the consulate grounds, the spokesman said.

He denied Prince Mohammed had any knowledge of the murder.

The deputy chief of Saudi Arabia’s intelligence, General Ahmed al-Assiri, gave the order to repatriate Khashoggi — and “the head of the negotiating team” that flew to the Istanbul consulate had ordered his murder, the spokesman said.

After repeated denials, Saudi Arabia finally admitted in mid-October that Khashoggi had been murdered at the compound, but blamed it on a “rogue” operation.

The prosecutor has requested the death penalty for the five who “are charged with ordering and committing the crime and for the appropriate sentences for the other indicted individuals,” an official statement published by state news agency SPA said.

It said a total of 21 individuals were in custody in connection with the killing, 11 of whom have been indicted with investigations to continue into the others.

Turkey on Wednesday called for an international investigation into the murder.

Ankara has already shared voice recordings linked to the murder with a number of countries including Saudi Arabia, the United States and its Western allies.

‘Global fallout’

Khashoggi’s killing has plunged the world’s top oil exporter into its worst diplomatic crisis since the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States, in which most of the hijackers were identified as Saudi nationals.

After first insisting Khashoggi left the consulate unharmed, Saudi authorities said he was killed in an argument that degenerated into a brawl before finally accepting what Turkey had said virtually from the start — that he was killed in a premeditated hit.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has said the order to murder Khashoggi came from “the highest levels” of the Saudi government.

The global fallout over the murder has tainted the image of 33-year-old Prince Mohammed — the de facto ruler and heir apparent — despite persistent Saudi denials that he was involved.

Khashoggi’s murder has also led to increased scrutiny of Saudi Arabia’s role in the Yemen war, which has pushed the impoverished country to the brink of famine.

The journalist went into self-imposed exile in the United States in 2017 after falling out with Prince Mohammed. — AFP

US urges sustained sanctions pressure on N. Korea

SINGAPORE: Vice President Mike Pence on Thursday took America’s “pressure campaign” against North Korea to a summit of world leaders, as concerns mount over Pyongyang’s key allies easing sanctions imposed over its nuclear programme.

US President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un held a historic summit in Singapore earlier this year, signing a vaguely worded deal on denuclearisation. But there has been little progress since, with the two countries sparring over the exact meaning of the agreement.

The isolated, impoverished North is under heavy sanctions imposed over its atomic weapons programme, which it has pursued in violation of UN resolutions.

Washington insists they must be maintained until the North denuclearizes.

But US officials acknowledge enforcement of the sanctions by the North’s traditional trading partners China and Russia has eased.

Meanwhile, Seoul has said it is mulling lifting its own measures against Pyongyang.

In remarks at the opening of a meeting with Southeast Asian leaders, Pence said America’s regional “partnership also includes our pressure campaign regarding” the North.

The meeting in Singapore is also being attended by Chinese Premier Li Keqiang, Russian President Vladimir Putin and South Korean leader Moon Jae-in.

“We will very much be talking about the need to maintain the pressure programme,” a senior US official said.

“It is what got Kim Jong Un to the table. It is incredibly important that the pressure stays on”.

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe also stressed in a meeting with members of the 10-country Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) the need to fully enforce sanctions.

“He urged Asean countries to collaborate on concrete measures such as ship to ship transfer of prohibited materials, including fuel,” said foreign ministry spokesman Takeshi Osuga.

‘Steadfast, enduring’

US officials insist on the final, fully verified denuclearisation of the Korean peninsula before sanctions are lifted.

The North has rejected demands for what it calls “unilateral” disarmament, and has instead sought unspecified reciprocal US measures in a gradual process.

It has also called for sanctions to be eased as a reward for coming to the table, warning Washington’s stance is undermining confidence.

While Trump has struck an optimistic tone in public, there are indications Pyongyang is not moving quickly enough towards abandoning its nuclear weapons.

Trump has skipped this week’s Singapore summit, the biggest annual meeting organised by Asean, raising new questions about US commitment to Asia.

Taking his place, Pence insisted America’s commitment to the region was “steadfast and enduring”.

“In all that we do the United States seeks collaboration not control,” he said at the meeting with Southeast Asian leaders.

He also took a swipe at Beijing, whose growing assertiveness in the South China Sea has long been a source of friction with rival claimants in Southeast Asia and the United States.

“Empire and aggression have no place in the Indo-Pacific,” Pence said.

“We stand shoulder-to-shoulder with you for freedom of navigation and our determination to ensure your nations are secure in their sovereign borders, on land and at sea”.

Beijing claims almost the entire South China Sea, even areas approaching the coastlines of other countries, and has been establishing military installations on disputed outcrops.

After Singapore, Pence is heading to Papua New Guinea for a summit of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum. — AFP