World

Fearsome Nepalese police offer security for Trump-Kim summit

To protect one of the highest-profile diplomatic events so far this century, Singapore has enlisted the help of its fearsome Nepalese fighters whose large curved knives, according to custom, must “taste blood” whenever they’re drawn. Wearing brown berets and equipped with body armor and assault rifles, the elite Gurkha police officers are a conspicuous part of the enveloping security force Singapore has deployed for Tuesday’s summit between President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. The meeting, which could prove to be a crucial moment in the global diplomatic push to resolve the nuclear standoff with Pyongyang, has sent the highly manicured city-state into security overdrive. Trump and Kim have brought their own personal security personnel and heavily armored limousines; Kim’s bodyguards have been seen running in formation alongside his massive Mercedes. Selected among young men from impoverished Nepal, Gurkhas have been part of Singapore’s police force since 1949. There are reportedly about 1,800 Gurkha officers in Singapore, and they are a regular presence at high-security events. On Monday, they were seen standing guard at the heavily fortified St. Regis Singapore, where Kim arrived Sunday afternoon. “This is a moment of pride to see the Gurkhas responsible for guarding such an important event,” said Krishna Kumar Ale, who served for 37 years in the British army before retiring back home in Nepal. “It shows that we Gurkhas have reached a point where we are trusted with the security of two of the most important people in the world.” In 2015, during the Shangri-la Dialogue, a Singapore summit that includes defense ministers and top security officials from around the world, a Gurkha officer shot and killed a driver after his car breached a series of roadblocks outside the summit’s venue. The incident turned out to be drug-related, not an attack. When asked about the scale of security operations for the summit, Singapore’s Law and Home Affairs Minister K. Shanmugam said Sunday that more than 5,000 police had been deployed. The Gurkha Contingent is a special police unit inside the force. “I think the fact that it had to be put together in two weeks … added tremendously to the pressure and logistics, the demands. But I think the officers have worked around the clock, we are quietly confident that they have put in place the preparations,” he said. Singapore is not new to hosting high-profile events, including International Monetary Fund and World Bank Group meetings, and Association of Southeast Asian Nations summits in 2007 and 2018. Gurkhas, whose name derives from the Nepalese hill town of Gorkha, have been deployed in major conflicts and wars since becoming part of the British army in the 19th century. More than 200,000 Gurkhas fought in the two world wars, where they won admiration for their combat skills and bravery, living up to their traditional motto “It’s better to die than to be a coward.” Gurkhas also fought in the Falklands conflict, the Gulf War, Bosnia, Kosovo and Afghanistan. The British experienced Gurkhas’ fierceness firsthand after suffering heavy losses during their invasion of Nepal. A peace deal signed by the British East India Company in 1815 allowed Britain to recruit troops from Nepal. After Indian independence in 1947, Britain, Nepal and India reached an agreement to transfer four Gurkha regiments to the Indian army. Former British colonies Singapore and Malaysia have also employed Gurkhas for their police and army, respectively. In Nepal, getting picked to serve as Gurkha soldiers and officers overseas is seen as a ticket out of poverty. According to Nepal’s Gurkha Army Ex-Servicemen Organization, over 10,000 applicants try out every year for about 260 places in the British army’s Gurkha units. Many train for months for the selection process, which includes a grueling “doko” race, which involves carrying 25 kilograms (55 pounds) of sand while running a steep 4.2-kilometer (2.6-mile) uphill course. Along with their modern weapons, Gurkhas still carry the traditional “kukri,” a long curved knife which tradition says must “ragat khaikana” — taste blood — once it is drawn. “That is no longer the current practice … mostly,” said the Gurkhas Australia website.

King David’s city discovered? Ancient site linked to biblical kingdom, archaeologists say

Archaeologists in Israel have uncovered an ancient site that may offer fresh insight into the ancient biblical kingdom of David and Solomon. Researchers from Bar-Ilan University have been excavating the remains of a large house dubbed the “Governor’s Residence” that was destroyed by a fire in an 8th century B.C. Assyrian military campaign. The impressive four-room home, located at Tel ‘Eton in the Judean foothills, had at least two stories and its ground floor extended over 2,420 square feet. Occupying high ground at the top of a mound, the house was carefully built with deep foundations. Large masonry stones were placed in the corners and entrances of the building and high-quality building materials were used, according to experts. The discovery could shed new light on the joint kingdom ruled by David and his son Solomon, which is described in the Hebrew Bible, but has long divided historians. Also known as the united monarchy, the territory is said to have included the kingdoms of Israel and Judah. While some experts believe that the kingdom existed in the 10th-century B.C., others have questioned its existence, citing a lack of evidence of royal construction at the center of the region where the kingdom is said to have existed. However, part of the building at Tel ‘Eton has been dated to a period in history that coincided with the supposed joint kingdom, according to Prof. Avraham Faust and Dr. Yair Sapir. The archaeologists recently published their findings in the journal Radiocarbon. “Surprisingly, radiocarbon dates from within the floor make-up and from within a foundation deposit that was placed below the floor indicate that the building had already been erected in the 10th century BCE, between the late 11th century and the third quarter of the 10th century BCE. This date is in line with other finds related to the construction, like the foundation deposit itself,” said Prof. Faust, in a statement. The construction of such a major residence at the top of a mound, with commanding views over the local area, marks an important event in the site’s history, according to Faust and Sapir, particularly when viewed in the context of the ancient city’s growth. However, the archaeologists note that “the association with David is not based on direct archaeological evidence, but solely on circumstantial grounds.” Nonetheless, the erection of the residence and the growing size of Tel ‘Eton could make a link to the David plausible, the researchers say, noting that the King is said to have existed in the nearby Judean highlands. Another site at Khirbet Qeiyafa in the Judean highlands, about 12.5 miles north of Tel ‘Eton, has also been linked to David, Haaretz reports. Jerusalem and other biblical cities such as Hebron, are also located in the Judean hills. There have been a number of fascinating finds in the region in recent years. A trove of bronze coins, the last remnants of an ancient Jewish revolt against the Roman Empire, were recently discovered near the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. In February, archaeologists announced the discovery of a clay seal mark that may bear the signature of the biblical Prophet Isaiah. Last November, new evidence dated Christ’s tomb in Jerusalem’s Church of the Holy Sepulchre to the Roman era, matching historical records. Other finds include the skeleton of a pregnant woman, dating back 3,200 years, in Israel’s Timna Valley, at a place once called King Solomon’s Mines. At the site of an ancient city on the West Bank, archaeologists are also hunting for evidence of the tabernacle that once housed the Ark of the Covenant. Some experts also believe they have found the lost Roman city of Julias, formerly the village of Bethsaida, which was the home of Jesus’ apostles Peter, Andrew and Philip.

Fascinating!!  To see some photos, click on the text above.    🙂

State Dept.: North Korea Using Executions, Torture Against ‘Serious Threat’ of Christianity

The U.S. State Department affirms in its annual International Religious Freedom Report, published Tuesday, that the communist regime controlling North Korea “considered Christianity a serious threat, as it challenged the official cult of personality and provided a platform for social and political organization and interaction outside the government.” The State Department – citing United Nations reports, NGOs, and media organizations specializing in North Korea coverage – found that Kim Jong-un’s regime regularly employed “arbitrary executions, political prison camps, and torture amounting to crimes against humanity” against anyone suspected of adhering to any faith, but targeted Christians in particular throughout 2017. Various reports estimated “119 killings and 87 disappearances” based on religious persecution, the report notes. It also cites multiple advocacy groups that have concluded that North Korea hosts a population of up to 400,000 Christians, though it is nearly impossible to confirm those numbers, and that between 10-45 percent of Christians are languishing in the nation’s concentration camps. A United Nations Commission of Inquiry (COI) found this year that “based on the government’s own figures, the proportion of religious adherents among the population dropped from close to 24 percent in 1950 to 0.016 percent in 2002,” the report notes. The report also suggested that persecution of individuals suspected of being Christians increased recently, targeting North Korean citizens for “crimes” ranging from being found in possession of religious material to simply loitering near a church too long for police to be comfortable with their presence, or driving by a church too many times. North Korea does allow a small number of legal churches in Pyongyang, the capital, but defectors and visitors report that they appear largely for show, with no proof that real Christians attend services in them, or that the sermons provided in the few known services to occur offer anything more than Kim cult propaganda. Some defectors said that they knew of the churches as “sightseeing spots for foreigners,” without knowing the true nature of a place of worship. Nonetheless, defectors have said in interviews that North Korean police are quick to arrest anyone who appears too interested in the areas. “One defector said when he lived in Pyongyang, authorities arrested individuals who they believed lingered too long outside these churches to listen to the music or consistently drove past them around each week when services were being held on suspicion of being secret Christians,” the report notes. The full International Religious Freedom Report for 2017, is available at the State Department’s website, divided by country. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo held a press conference Tuesday morning announcing the publication of this year’s edition. The State Department concluded, citing interviews with defectors and NGO reports published throughout 2017, that there existed in the country “an almost complete denial by the government of the right to freedom of thought, conscience, and religion, and in many instances, violations of human rights committed by the government constituted crimes against humanity.” The report notes that the UN “condemned in the strongest terms the long-standing and ongoing systematic, widespread and gross human rights violations” against religious people in the country. Christians suffered the most systematic persecution…

Of course they did..  IF President Trump actually meets with Kim Jong ding dong, he needs to put pressure on him for more religious tolerance.  Granted, it doesn’t rise to the level of denulcearization, in terms of our national security.  But, if he can certainly use the time to put in a plug for religious freedom while they’re sitting across from one another.  Just sayin..  For more of this article, click on the text above..

Palestinian crowd pelts US vehicle with egg

A small crowd of Palestinian protesters in the West Bank on Monday pelted an American diplomatic vehicle with eggs to protest the recent move of the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem. The incident drew an angry American response and deepened a crisis in relations that has followed the U.S. Embassy decision. The State Department said the diplomats were on a visit to “promote educational and cultural exchange” in the West Bank when they were accosted. “The objective was clearly intimidation. The United States absolutely opposes the use of violence and intimidation to express political views,” the statement said. The protesters gathered as members of the delegation from the U.S. Consulate in Jerusalem walked to their vehicle. The crowd held signs and shouted at the Americans, before throwing eggs at their car as they drove away. No one was injured. “We are here to say to the American Embassy, ‘No we don’t need you. Leave Palestine and leave Jerusalem and leave the embassy,'” said Palestinian protester Muhannad al-Said. This comes just one week after the U.S. Embassy to Israel was moved from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. The Palestinians claim Israeli-annexed east Jerusalem as their capital. While President Donald Trump has said the embassy move is not meant to prejudge the final borders of the city, the step is seen by both Israel and the Palestinians as siding with Israel in the most sensitive dispute in their conflict. East Jerusalem, captured by Israel in the 1967 Mideast war, is home to the city’s most sensitive Jewish, Muslim and Christian holy sites. The Palestinians have severed most contacts with the Americans to protest the move.

And we should end ALL foreign aid to that Hamas-supported entity known as the Palestinians.  The move of the embassy became U.S. LAW back when Clinton was President.  And he, as well as Pres Bush and Pres Obama just signed “waivers” on the move.  In short, they didn’t have the stones to simply follow the law, and so they kicked the can down the road until President Trump came around.  So, President Trump merely fulfilled existing law already in place, as well as a campaign promise.  That’s all.  And in so doing, he formalized that which had already existed.  The fact that the Palestinians are up in arms about it is bs.  It’s just another reason for them to start riots and attack Israel which they don’t even recognize as existing…which is, of course, crazy,.  It’s time to end ALL U.S. taxpayer support in the form of “foreign aid” to the Palestinians; a group that hates us anyway.

North Korea Walks Out of Talks with South over Joint Drills with U.S.

North Korean state media reported on Wednesday local time that the nation’s senior diplomats would cancel scheduled high-level talks with South Korean counterparts, reportedly due to military drills Seoul had planned to execute with the United States. Pyongyang deployed high-level officials to both Seoul and Beijing this week. Ri Son-kwon, chairman of the Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of the Country, was scheduled to meet with South Korean officials on Tuesday. Another group of unnamed senior officials reportedly landed in Beijing on Monday to continue discussions in anticipation of a planned meeting between U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un, scheduled for June 12 in Singapore. On Wednesday local time (Tuesday afternoon in most of the United States), the South Korean outlet Yonhap reported that the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA), the government news outlet of the Kim regime, had published a report announcing that the inter-Korean talks would no longer occur. The report specifically cited the “Max Thunder” military drills being held jointly between South Korea and the United States as the reason for their backing out of the meeting. “This exercise targeting us, which is being carried out across South Korea and targeting us, is a flagrant challenge to the Panmunjom Declaration and an intentional military provocation running counter to the positive political development on the Korean Peninsula,” Yonhap quoted KCNA as saying. “The United States will also have to undertake careful deliberations about the fate of the planned North Korea-U.S. summit in light of this provocative military ruckus jointly conducted with the South Korean authorities.” Yonhap added that KCNA’s brief went on to call “into question whether next month’s summit between North Korean leader Kim Jong-un and U.S. President Donald Trump can go ahead as planned.” The meeting between Kim and Trump is expected to address “denuclearization of the Korean peninsula,” which Kim expressed a desire to see during his meeting with Moon on the border of their two countries. American officials have stated that they will not pursue regime change in North Korea and are open to giving financial incentives to the Kim regime to abandon its illegal nuclear weapons program, which it uses to threaten nuclear strikes on South Korea, the United States, and Japan on a regular basis. A report using satellite images on the website 38 North Monday found that North Korea has made significant moves towards shutting down its Punggye-ri Nuclear Test Site, the only such site in the country. Several buildings have been dismantled, and a new platform, perhaps to accommodate journalists, has been assembled at the site. KCNA announced Saturday it will invite international journalists to watch the shutdown of the site; skeptics believe the site is inoperable and a symbolic “shutdown” would cost Pyongyang little. Adding to confusion on Tuesday was the publication of a report by South Korean newspaper Joongang Ilbo revealing that North Korea has maintained a secret uranium enrichment facility independent of the supplies found at Punggye-ri. Joongang Ilbo reports that American intelligence sources are aware of the site and will demand that its contents be part of any deal to denuclearize the country, not simply the supplies currently known to exist. “Max Thunder” is the name given to two-week-long air drills by both militaries, which is typically a drill practiced as part of the larger Foal Eagle joint exercise but was removed from the schedule reportedly as a response to Kim Jong-un’s being open to meeting with both Trump and South Korean President Moon Jae-in. Both militaries openly stated they will hold this exercise in May, as they do every year. Yonhap reported on March 21 that the “Max Thunder drill will be held for two weeks from May 11, involving more than 100 Air Force jets of the allies,” leaving significant time between then and the Panmunjom summit with Moon Jae-in for Kim Jong-un to raise objections over these exercises. Yet this is the first major step North Korea has made to object to the exercises. Update: State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert told reporters during her regular press briefing on Tuesday that the KCNA report did not correspond to any private messages American officials have received: “We have not heard anything from that government or the government of South Korea to indicate that we would not continue conducting these exercises or that we would not continue planning for our meeting between President Trump and Kim Jong Un next month.”

We believe this is just posturing on the part of North Korea..  But, we’ll continue to monitor this developing story…

North Korea Invites International Media to Watch Nuclear Test Site Shutdown

North Korea’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs announced on Saturday that the communist regime would hold a ceremony on a date between May 23 and 25 to permanently shut down the Punggye-ri Nuclear Test Site, and journalists from five countries, including the United States, were invited to attend. The announcement appeared on the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) website, and appeared to be a gesture of goodwill towards the international community, which has pressured North Korea for years to dismantle its illegal nuclear weapons program. The ceremony will occur less than a month before a planned in-person meeting between dictator Kim Jong-un and U.S. President Donald Trump, scheduled for June 12. The press release from the Foreign Ministry did not specifically name the Punggye-ri site, describing it only as the “northern nuclear test ground of the DPRK [Democratic People’s Republic of Korea].” There is no evidence, however, that North Korea possesses any other nuclear test sites, active or otherwise. “A ceremony for dismantling the nuclear test ground is now scheduled between May 23 and 25, depending on weather condition,” KCNA announced. “Dismantlement of the nuclear test ground will be done in the following sequence: making all tunnels of the test ground collapse by explosion; completely blocking entries; removing all observation facilities, research institutes and structures of guard units on the ground.” The North Korean Foreign Ministry affirms that, following the ceremony, the site will be “completely closed.” It adds that international journalists will be welcomed into the country “to conduct on-the-spot coverage in order to show in a transparent manner the dismantlement of the northern nuclear test ground.” Journalists applying to cover the event will be limited to citizens of China, Russia, the United States, the United Kingdom, and South Korea, due to the remote and diminutive nature of the site. The North Korean communist regime will also provide transportation directly from Beijing, claiming this to be necessary “in consideration of the fact that the test ground is located in the uninhabited deep mountain area.” Full control of transportation and lodging will allow North Korean officials to control the movements of the journalists and prevent them from encountering any individuals unauthorized to speak to foreigners or venture into territories the government does not wish them to see. North Korea already implements these strict controls with tourists, who are assigned a personal “guide” for the entirety of their stay in the country that prevents them from steering away from government-designated areas and keeps foreigners from asking potentially compromising questions or interacting with North Korean citizens, potentially exposing them to ideas hostile to the Kim dynasty. Kim Jong-un has repeatedly expressed a desire to see the full denuclearization of the Korean peninsula in several unprecedented meetings held this year – two with Chinese Communist Party leader Xi Jinping and one with South Korean President Moon Jae-in. In a meeting with senior South Korean officials in March, Kim reportedly said that denuclearization was father Kim Jong-il’s “dying wish.” Skeptics note Kim has not specifically rejected the notion of North Korea being armed with nuclear weapons and could be defining “denuclearization” as the removal of American nuclear assets from the region, present as a result of the aftermath of World War II and the Korean War. How much of an effect dismantling the Punggye-ri Nuclear Test Site will have on North Korea’s nuclear development has become a matter of intense debate in the West. Following North Korea’s sixth nuclear weapons test in September, Japanese media reported that the chamber of the test site where the bomb was set off, deep within northern Mount Mantap, had collapsed into itself, killing 200 workers. Satellite images reportedly showed significant damage to not just the Nuclear Test Site, but the mountain itself. In April, two separate groups of academics independently concluded, citing satellite images, that Mount Mantap had partially collapsed, rendering it useless as a nuclear test site – any further testing could collapse the mountain and send clouds of nuclear fumes blasting into the sky, threatening nearby China. This week, a new study using the relative distance between international satellites and Mount Mantap found that the mountain had lost half a meter in height and expanded by 3.5 meters. Evidence suggests, the researchers observed, that the mountain was still sinking.

Israel, Iran move closer to open war after exchanging missile barrages

Massively retaliating for what it said was an Iranian military strike across the Golan Heights, Israeli forces unleashed a heavy bombardment against Iranian military positions across Syria on Thursday, in a significant escalation that has brought the two long-hostile Middle East heavyweights to the brink of open war. The U.S. and a number of European powers quickly endorsed what they said was Israel’s right to self-defense, while the Russian government and U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres urged both sides to pull back. But Israeli President Benjamin Netanyahu and his aides vowed to strike back hard at what they say are increasing encroachments by Iran and its proxies across the border in Syria. Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman told reporters here that the Israeli missile and airstrikes had hit “nearly all” of Iran’s significant infrastructure sites in Syria. Iran and Tehran-allied militias have been active in Syria supporting the government of ally President Bashar Assad in the country’s seven-year civil war. The heavy Israeli strikes were in response to approximately 20 missiles fired from inside Syria at Israeli targets in the Golan Heights. “If it rains on us it will be a flood on them,” Mr. Lieberman said. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Israel’s military action was intended to send a “clear message” to Tehran to back down, and hinted there may be more to come. Israel is in “a continuous campaign,” the conservative prime minister said, adding, “Whoever attacks us, we will attack them sevenfold, and whoever prepares to attack us, we will act against them first.” Already reeling from President Trump’s decision Tuesday to withdraw from the 2015 nuclear accord, Iranian leaders maintained a studied silence in the official media, seen by many as a sign Tehran realizes it is not ready for a direct, open conflict with the powerful Israeli military. A Foreign Ministry spokesman condemned what he called a “violation of Syria’s sovereignty,” without mentioning whether any Iranian forces had been hit in the attacks. The Syrian military acknowledged that the strikes destroyed a radar station and an ammunition warehouse, and damaged a number of air defense units. It said three people were killed and two were wounded, according to The Associated Press. The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which closely monitors the civil war through sources inside Syria, said 23 fighters, including five Syrian soldiers, were killed..