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Analysis: Tears don’t mean Kim Jong Un is softening. Just look at his military hardware

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Kim delivered what amounted to a mea culpa on the 75th anniversary of the foundation of the Workers’ Party of Korea, the communist party that has ruled North Korea since its inception.

He thanked North Koreans for their “great perseverance” and putting their trust in the party. He lauded them for how they “bravely overcame severe hardships and trials” this year. And he was overcome by emotion when thanking members of the country’s military for their help with both disaster recovery — North Korea was hit by several major storms this summer — and epidemic prevention.

The tone of Kim’s speech — which was short on the fiery rhetoric common in recent years and at no point referred to the United States by name — compared to the parade itself amounted to thematic whiplash, but those extremes sum up 2020 in North Korea pretty well.

Kim’s country is at a crossroads. Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programs have made incredible strides under Kim’s stewardship. Diplomatically he’s also delivered — both by developing a personal relationship with US President Donald Trump and mending fences with China, North Korea’s most important economic patron.
But for a leader who has sought to fashion himself as a man of the people, his promise to improve the lives of all North Koreans remains unfilled.

Kim’s vulnerable side

Kim’s apology to his people and tearful praise of his military isn’t exactly out of character.

Domestically, the young North Korean leader is portrayed as something of a man of the people, even if he comes from a family that is revered with religious fervor. Kim keeps a busy schedule and pounds the pavement constantly interacting with regular North Koreans, smiling alongside them and even hugging others — a stark contrast from his reclusive father and predecessor, Kim Jong Il.

Also unlike his father, Kim has been willing to admit failure in everything from satellite launches to economic agendas and to learn from his mistakes. While it may come at a propaganda cost, puncturing the myth of infallibility of the Kim family that North Korean state media has spent decades refining, it does help feed Kim’s image as a more modern and agile statesman.

Crying publicly, however, was a level of vulnerability Kim had not reached to date.

John Delury, a professor at Yonsei University’s Graduate School of International Relations, said he believes Kim’s decision to share such raw emotion publicly was rooted in confidence in his position.

“It’s a political style. It’s a kind of populism to connect with his public — to show them how deeply he feels they’re suffering, that he cares,” Delury said.

Whether the North Korean public believes he is sincere is an open question. Public apologies are one thing, but Pyongyang’s strictly controlled media landscape does not tolerate dissent. Kim himself is accused of overseeing a political prison network that houses more than 100,000 people in reportedly horrifying conditions.

“From day one, he has been promising economic development.” Delury said. “He’s apologized for failing to deliver from year to year … and he’s not backed away from the promise.”

While many blame North Korea’s inefficient command economy for its failure to improve living standards, the sanctions in place punishing Pyongyang for its nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programs have made it almost impossible for the country to improve its economic prospects.

Kim’s dogged pursuit of nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles has been sold to North Koreans as a means to ensure their safety from outside forces, but they are the ones largely paying the bill.

‘Never underestimate North Korea’

The armaments on display on October 10 underscored that North Korea has continued to push ahead with its efforts to develop advanced weaponry.

Though North Korea showed off some impressive conventional armaments, the highlights of the parade were strategic weapons: the two ballistic missile frames put on display near the end of the parade. One was a solid-fueled design based on a submarine-launched ballistic missile and the other was a massive, land-based, liquid intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM). The latter — which appears to be one of the biggest missiles ever built — is likely the “new strategic weapon” Kim promised in January that North Korea would unveil in 2020.

Experts say the design of this weapon seems technologically similar to the Hwasong-15, the massive ICBM North Korea successfully test-fired in November 2017. Most agree the added size means the missile could carry multiple warheads, which would be helpful if North Korea was attempting to evade or overwhelm US missile defense systems.

Pyongyang also showed off what appeared to be new, larger vehicles designed to transport its land-based ICBMs, which in theory make it harder for adversaries to take them out before launch because the Kim regime can hide the weapons and opt to fire them remotely.

The conclusion drawn from the military display is clear: North Korea is hard at work on its weapons advancement, even if it has scaled back the testing of weapons that will provoke Washington — long-range missiles and nuclear bombs.

“Never underestimate North Korea. They are continually working to increase their defensive capability,” said Melissa Hanham, a missile expert at the One Earth Future Foundation. “The longer that we leave the door open, the longer they will continue to develop a nuclear missile program.”

While one US official said North Korea’s decision to roll out a new ICBM was “disappointing,” displaying these weapons at a parade is one of the least provocative ways to show them off domestically and internationally to the world. Actually test-firing a long-range ballistic missile could have elicited a harsh response from a notoriously mercurial US President in the middle of an election campaign.

When asked Wednesday about the missiles, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo touched on this, highlighting the fact that a parade is not a demonstration of the viability of a weapon and that since meeting with Trump, Kim has not tested a single long-range ballistic missile.

Evans Revere, a former State Department expert, said the dialed-down rhetoric of Kim’s speech when juxtaposed to the weapons display this month makes it clear that “Kim Jong Un understands that the essence of the deal that he has with Trump continues to be no long-range ballistic missile testing and no nuclear testing.

“Other than that, President Trump has made it fairly clear that he’s not troubled by any of the shorter range testing, or developments that are occurring in the nuclear area,” Revere said.



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Coronavirus could drive the last nail into the mink fur trade

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A total 3.1 million mink were farmed in the United States in 2018, according to animal welfare charity Humane Society International (HSI). Current advice from the US Department of Agriculture does not recommend culls of mink herds.

In July, Spanish authorities ordered a cull of nearly 100,000 of the animals for the same reason, and in May the Netherlands mandated coronavirus testing at mink farms after suspecting that one of the animals had passed the virus to a human.

The testing has led to the culling of an estimated 2.6 million mink in the Netherlands, according to HSI. While some mink died from coronavirus, most of the animals were culled due to concerns that they could spread the virus to humans.

Although fur farms are banned in many countries, millions of animals are killed every year for their pelts, which are used in clothing. HSI said that 60 million mink were farmed for fur around the world in 2018, with China accounting for 20.7 million of the total.

A recent study conducted in the Netherlands found “strong evidence” that at least two people from four mink farms in the country contracted coronavirus from the animals, and study co-author Marion Koopmans, a virologist at ErasmusMC in Rotterdam, said that her team’s research has confirmed mink-to-human transmission.

Studies have shown that ferrets are susceptible to coronavirus, so researchers in the Netherlands decided to look into the taxonomically similar mink during a routine animal testing program, said Koopmans.

“Researchers found that mink do transmit Covid-19 to each other more easily than other animals, Koopmans said. “It is amazing how easily this virus spreads in mink,” she said.

Long-term animal welfare issues give way to human concerns

Mink, which are closely related to weasels, otters and ferrets, appear to suffer similar Covid-19 symptoms to humans.

Difficulty breathing and crusting around the eyes are usually seen, but the virus progresses rapidly, and most infected mink are dead by the day after symptoms appear, according to Dean Taylor, state veterinarian for the US state of Utah.

Conditions at the farms mean the virus is able to rip through captive populations, said Jo Swabe, senior director of public affairs at HSI Europe. “The animals are being kept in small wire cages, there’s just rows and rows and rows of them,” she said. “The animals can’t escape each other.”

Mink are naturally solitary and semi-aquatic, and it’s impossible to provide for their welfare needs on farms, according to HSI, which campaigns for the closure of fur farms on ethical grounds.

In the Netherlands, there is now ongoing transmission between mink farms, as well as evidence that the virus has been circulating for some time at some facilities, said Koopmans.

There are a number of hypotheses as to how transmission occurs, including via workers, semi-wild cats or other wildlife. “We’re not really sure what happens,” said Koopmans. “There is a missing link.”

Koopmans has recommended culling mink populations to reduce the chance that farms become a permanently infected viral reservoir. She emphasized that she is not normally an advocate for mass animal culls but it’s the best approach to prevent sustained transmission among mink.

“That’s a risk that I think we should not be taking,” she said.

If this were allowed to happen, and human-human transmission were suppressed, the virus could be reseeded from mink farms, said Koopman, who added that it’s unclear whether the virus would change, with unknown consequences, if it were allowed to circulate in another species.

What next for the industry?

The European Commission has ruled out an European Union wide ban on fur animal farming in connection with Covid-19. But various national authorities have stepped in to mandate the culling of mink populations to prevent farms becoming a source of infection.

In Denmark, mink herds with confirmed or suspected infections will be culled, as will all farms within five miles of those facilities. The culling process will be handled by the Danish Veterinary and Food Administration and the Danish Emergency Management Agency, and mink breeders will receive compensation for the loss of their herd along with compensation for their operation losses.

10,000 mink are dead in Covid-19 outbreaks at US fur farms after virus believed spread by humans

“It is a difficult decision that the government has made, but we fully support it,” said Tage Pedersen, chairman of the Danish Mink Breeders Association. “In recent weeks, we have all experienced that more and more farms in North Jutland have been infected, and no one has been able to explain the increase. Human health must come first.”

The Netherlands is also paying compensation for infected mink pelts that can no longer be sold. In addition, the country has fast-tracked an existing plan to phase out fur farming. Every mink farm was due to shut down by 2024, but the deadline has been brought forward to March 2021, according to Dutch public broadcaster NOS.
Barrier tape cordons off buildings of a mink farm at Beek en Donk, eastern Netherlands, on April 26 after tests showed that animals had been infected with Covid-19.

Mink farmers will receive considerable compensation, which has stoked public opposition at a time of economic hardship for many, but the decision has accelerated the end for mink farming in the country and saved millions of animal lives, said Swabe.

Fur farming has been banned for years in countries such as the UK, Austria and Croatia, with other European nations following suit.

France announced last month that it would ban farming mink for fur by 2025. Poland looks likely to ban the breeding of animals for fur after a bill introduced by the ruling Law and Justice party sailed through the lower house of parliament in mid-September.

Spain orders cull of nearly 100,000 farmed mink after animals test positive for Covid-19
The pandemic struck at an already difficult time for the fur industry, as fashion designers use less of the material. Calvin Klein was one of the first major designers to ban the use of fur in the 1990s, and it has since been joined by a raft of big brands including Prada, Chanel, Burberry and Versace, according to research conducted by HSI, as consumers increasingly turn away from the product on animal welfare grounds. Pelt prices have also declined in recent years, and many are going unsold, said Swabe.
While the fur industry faces tough times, in general, Swabe predicts that Denmark will be the last holdout. The country is the world’s largest producer of mink skins, almost 19 million per year, according to the Danish Agriculture and Food Council. It is home to Kopenhagen Fur, the largest fur auction house in the world.

However, in other fur-producing nations the compensation deals on offer may prove to be a good way out for those involved in the industry, while the effects of the coronavirus pandemic may drive farms out of business even before the recent spate of legislation comes into force.

“I really do hope that will put the final nail in the coffin,” said Swabe.



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Nagorno-Karabakh: Armenia accuses Azerbaijan of violating new truce

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Related Topics

  • Nagorno-Karabakh conflict

image copyrightReuters

image captionA man removes debris in the Nagorno-Karabakh capital, Stepanakert

Armenia has accused Azerbaijan of violating a humanitarian ceasefire in the disputed region of Nagorno-Karabakh within minutes of it coming into force.

A truce had been agreed to start at midnight local time (20:00 GMT Saturday).

But an Armenian defence ministry spokeswoman said Azerbaijan broke the ceasefire after just four minutes by firing artillery shells and rockets.

Azerbaijan is yet to respond to the allegations.

The decision on the ceasefire was taken in line with agreements that led to a ceasefire being signed last weekend. However, clashes continued despite that accord.

Fighting flared last month over a region internationally recognised as part of Azerbaijan but which is run by ethnic Armenians. Hundreds have died.

This is the worst violence in the region since a six-year war over the territory ended with a ceasefire in 1994.

  • What are Armenia and Azerbaijan fighting over?

  • Karabakh war leaves civilians shell-shocked and bitter
  • Nagorno-Karabakh conflict in pictures

Earlier on Saturday, both nations continued to trade accusations over violations of the Russian-brokered truce agreed last weekend and doubts are likely to remain following the latest statements.

What is the latest agreement?

Both nations confirmed the humanitarian truce, although few other details were given.

Azerbaijan’s foreign ministry said the decision was based on statements by the presidents of the US, France and Russia, representing the OSCE Minsk Group – a body set up in 1992 and chaired by the three countries to mediate the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.

image copyrightEPA
image captionRescue workers at the scene of damage in the Azerbaijani city of Ganja

Anna Naghdalyan, spokesperson for Armenia’s foreign ministry carried the same statement in a tweet, adding it welcomed efforts towards a “ceasefire and de-escalation of tension” in the conflict zone.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, who negotiated last weekend’s accord, spoke to counterparts in both countries on Saturday and said they needed to “strictly follow” the earlier agreement.

What is the latest on the ground?

“The enemy fired artillery shells in the northern direction from 00:04 to 02:45, (20:04 to 22:45 GMT Saturday) and fired rockets in the southern direction from 02:20 to 02:45,” Armenian defence ministry spokeswoman Shushan Stepanyan said on Twitter.

Azerbaijan accused Armenia of a missile strike in the early hours of Saturday that killed at least 13 civilians and injured 45 in Ganja, a city far from the front lines.

A foreign ministry statement accused Armenia of “deliberate and indiscriminate targeting of civilians”.

media captionA ceasefire agreement has failed to stop the killing in Nagorno-Karabakh

Armenian officials denied the attack, and accused Azerbaijan of attacking civilian areas.

Ms Stepanyan posted a video on Facebook which she said showed devastation in the Nagorno-Karabakh region, accusing the Azerbaijani Armed Forces of striking at civilians with missiles in areas including the Nagorno-Karabakh capital, Stepanakert.

media captionUnder fire in Nagorno-Karabakh

Nagorno-Karabakh – key facts

  • A mountainous region of about 4,400 sq km (1,700 sq miles)
  • Traditionally inhabited by Christian Armenians and Muslim Turks
  • In Soviet times, it became an autonomous region within the republic of Azerbaijan
  • Internationally recognised as part of Azerbaijan, but majority of population is ethnic Armenian
  • An estimated one million people displaced by war in 1988-1994, and about 30,000 killed
  • Separatist forces captured some extra territory around the enclave in Azerbaijan in the 1990s war
  • Stalemate has largely prevailed since a 1994 ceasefire
  • Turkey openly supports Azerbaijan
  • Russia has military bases in Armenia

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