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Briefing :- 8/10/17

Here is CurrentHow’s Briefing™ for the 8th of October, 2017 :-

1. North Korea’s Kim promotes sister, reaffirms nuclear drive :-

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un has promoted his sister Kim Yo-jong to the politburo – the nation’s top decision-making body.

The promotion, reported by North Korean state media, indicates that the 28-year-old has replaced Kim Jong-un’s aunt, Kim Kyong Hee, who was a key decision maker when former leader Kim Jong-il was alive.

“It shows that her portfolio and writ is far more substantive than previously believed and it is a further consolidation of the Kim family’s power,” said Michael Madden, a North Korea expert at Johns Hopkins University’s 38 North website.

In January, the US treasury blacklisted Kim Yo-jong along with other North Korean officials over “severe human rights abuses”.

Kim Jong Sik and Ri Pyong Chol, two of the three men behind Kim’s banned rocket programme, were also promoted.

North Korea’s foreign minister Ri Yong Ho, who named Donald Trump “President Evil” in a bombastic speech to the UN General Assembly last month, was promoted to full vote-carrying member of the politburo.

“Ri can now be safely identified as one of North Korea’s top policy makers,” said Madden. “Even if he has informal or off the record meetings, Ri’s interlocutors can be assured that whatever proposals they proffer will be taken directly to the top,” he said.

In a speech to a meeting of the powerful Central Committee of the ruling Workers’ Party on Saturday, Kim said his nuclear weapons were a “powerful deterrent” which guarantee North Korea’s sovereignty.

His comments came hours after US President Donald Trump said “only one thing will work” in dealing with the isolated country.

Trump did not make clear to what he was referring, but his comments seemed to be a further suggestion that military action was on his mind.

Addressing the “complicated international situation”, Kim said North Korea’s nuclear weapons were a “powerful deterrent firmly safeguarding the peace and security in the Korean peninsula and Northeast Asia.

In recent weeks, North Korea has launched two missiles over Japan and conducted its sixth nuclear test, and may be fast advancing toward its goal of developing a nuclear-tipped missile capable of hitting the U.S. mainland.

North Korea is preparing to test-launch such a missile, a Russian lawmaker who had just returned from a visit to Pyongyang was quoted as saying on Friday.

Donald Trump has previously said the United States would “totally destroy” North Korea if necessary to protect itself and its allies.

2. Rohingya militants say ceasefire to end on October 9 :-

Rohingya militants whose attacks triggered an army crackdown in Myanmar’s Rakhine state unleashing a huge wave of refugees said Saturday their one-month ceasefire would end in two days, but added they were open to peace if the government reciprocated.

In a statement released through its Twitter account, the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA) said its unilateral truce would end at midnight on October 9.

“The humanitarian pause was conducted in order to enable humanitarian actors to assess and respond to the humanitarian crisis in Arakan (Rakhine),” the statement said.

“If at any stage, the Burmese government is inclined to peace, then ARSA will welcome that inclination and reciprocate,” it said, using the former name for Myanmar.

It did not include any direct threats of new violence.

The armed group tipped northern Rakhine into crisis when it ambushed police posts on August 25.

The army’s reprisal has been so sweeping and savage that the UN says it likely amounts to ethnic cleansing of the Muslim minority, who have faced decades of persecution.

More than half a million Rohingya have fled into Bangladesh in six weeks, an exodus that has spiralled into one of the world’s most urgent refugee crises.

In its statement, ARSA said it had helped provide “safe passage” to refugees fleeing to Bangladesh.

While the worst of the bloodshed appears to have abated in recent weeks, tens of thousands of Rohingya continue to stream over to Bangladesh, passing through a violence-scarred region where hundreds of villages have been reduced to smouldering ash.

3. Iraqi Commander says that the final assault on Islamic State in Raqqa to start on Sunday :-

A final assault on Islamic State’s last line of defence in its former Syrian capital Raqqa should begin on Sunday night, a field commander for the U.S.-backed forces operating there said.

The loss of Islamic State’s remaining streets and buildings in Raqqa following its defeat in Iraq’s Mosul this year and its retreat from swathes of territory in both countries, would mark a major milestone in the battle to destroy the jihadist group.

The assault on militants in the centre of the northern city will focus on surrounding the sports stadium there, said a field commander in the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) in western Raqqa, who gave his name as Ardal Raqqa.

“Daesh is massing there because this is the last stage. They will resist, or they will surrender or die,” he said. “This their last stand to the death.”

Islamic State declared a caliphate in 2014 and at the height of its power ruled over millions of people, from northern Syria to the outskirts of Iraq’s capital Baghdad, but it has since endured a series of losses under attack from many sides.

Raqqa was the group’s de facto Syrian capital, a centre of operations where it oversaw the management of much of eastern, central and northern Syria and planned attacks abroad.

Now it is hemmed into a small area in the city centre that includes the stadium, the National Hospital and a roundabout where Islamic State once displayed the heads of its enemies.

In the hours before the expected launch of the final assault, which the commander said could take up to a week, the sound of gunfire sporadically rattled around the area near the hospital.

The district had been flattened, with buildings completely gone. Coalition jets soared overhead and air strikes pounded at a higher rate than in recent days.

4. Moscow warns it may restrict U.S. media in Russia :-

Russia is within its rights to restrict the operations of U.S. media organisations in Russia in retaliation for what Moscow calls U.S. pressure on a Kremlin-backed TV station, a Russian foreign ministry spokeswoman said on Sunday.

Russian officials have accused Washington of putting unwarranted pressure on the U.S. operations of RT, a Kremlin-funded broadcaster accused by some in Washington of interfering in domestic U.S. politics, which it denies.

The foreign ministry spokeswoman, Maria Zakharova, said the full weight of the U.S. authorities was being brought to bear against RT’s operations in the United States, and that Moscow had the right to respond.

“We have never used Russian law in relation to foreign correspondents as a lever of pressure, or censorship, or some kind of political influence, never,” Zakharova said in an interview with Russia’s NTV broadcaster. “But this is a particular case.”

She cited a 1991 Russian law which, she said, stated that if a Russian media outlet is subject to restrictions in a foreign country, then Moscow has the right to impose proportionate restrictions on media outlets from that country operating inside Russia.

“Correspondingly, everything that Russian journalists and the RT station are subject to on U.S. soil, after we qualified it as restriction of their activities, we can apply similar measures to American journalists, American media here, on Russian territory,” Zakharova said.

She did not identify any specific U.S. media outlets that would be targeted. She said it made no difference from the Russian government’s point of view if those outlets were backed by the U.S. state, or privately-funded.

Late last month, Russia’s state communications regulator accused U.S. TV channel CNN International of violating its license to broadcast in Russia and said it had summoned the broadcaster’s representatives in connection with the matter.

The watchdog did not publicly disclose the nature of the violation. The head of the regulator said it was a technical matter and denied that politics was involved.

U.S. intelligence officials, in a report in January this year into allegations of Russian interference in the U.S. presidential election, said RT was part of a state-run propaganda machine that supported a Kremlin campaign to influence U.S. politics. Russia Today, and Russian officials, have denied any attempt to interfere in U.S. politics. They say that political forces in the United States are whipping up hysteria about Russia’s influence to discredit President Donald Trump.

5. Thousands protest in Barcelona against Catalan independence :-

Tens of thousands of people took to the streets of Catalonia’s capital Barcelona on Sunday to express their opposition to any declaration of independence from Spain, showing how divided the region is on the issue.

The protesters rallied in central Barcelona, waving Spanish and Catalan flags and banners saying “Catalonia is Spain” and “Together we are stronger”, as politicians on both sides hardened their positions in the country’s worst political crisis for decades.

Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy said on Saturday he would not rule out removing Catalonia’s government and calling a fresh local election if it claimed independence, as well as suspending the region’s existing autonomous status.

The stark warning came days before Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont is expected to address the region’s parliament, on Tuesday, when he could unilaterally declare independence.

“We feel both Catalan and Spanish,” Araceli Ponze, 72, said as she rallied in Barcelona. “We are facing a tremendous unknown. We will see what happens this week but we have to speak out very loudly so they know what we want.”

The wealthy northeastern region of 7.5 million people, which has its own language and culture, held an independence referendum on Oct. 1 in defiance of a Spanish court ban.

More than 90 percent of the 2.3 million people who voted backed secession, according to Catalan officials. But that turnout represented only 43 percent of the region’s 5.3 million eligible voters as many opponents of independence stayed away.

The Spanish government sent thousands of national police into the region to prevent the vote. About 900 people were injured when officers fired rubber bullets and charged crowds with truncheons in scenes that shocked Spain and the world, and dramatically escalated the dispute.

Losing Catalonia is almost unthinkable for the Spanish government.

It would deprive Spain of about 16 percent of its people, a fifth of its economic output and more than a quarter of its exports. Catalonia is also the top destination for foreign tourists, attracting about a quarter of Spain’s total.

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