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North Korea accepts South Korea’s offer for talks

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Seoul, Jan 5: North Korea on Friday accepted South Korea’s offer for official talks, in what will be the first high-stake contact to be held between the two countries in over two years.

South Korean Unification Ministry spokesman Baik Tae-hyun told the media that North Korea informed its southern neighbour by fax at 10.16 a.m., that they have accepted the Seoul’s offer to initiate talks, reports CNN.

The person-to-person talks will take place on January 9 — one day after North Korean leader Kim Jong-un’s birthday — at the Peace House, located on the South Korean side of the truce village of Panmunjom, located in the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) between the two nations, Baik said.

The spokesman said both the countries agreed to work on the details of the talks “through the exchange of documents”, and added the agenda items of the talks will be “issues related to improving inter-Korean relationships including the Pyeongchang (Winter) Olympic Games”.

The faxed message accepting the long-standing offer of talks was from Ri Son Kwon, chairman of the North Korean Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of the Fatherland, CNN reported.

It was addressed to his de-facto counterpart, South Korea’s Unification Minister Cho Myoung-gyon, Baik added.

The last high-level talks of both sides were a deputy ministerial meeting between South and North Korea that held in December 2015 at the jointly-run Kaesong industrial zone in North Korea.

The industrial park, which opened in 2004 in a rare show of cooperation between the two Koreas, was shuttered in 2016 in response to Pyongyang’s ramping-up of missile and nuclear testing.

This comes after South Korea and the US agreed late Thursday to delay their joint military drills during the Winter Olympics, reports Yonhap News Agency.

North Korea has long denounced the military drills as a war rehearsal and used them as an excuse for its provocations. But South Korea and the US has maintained that the exercises were defensive in nature.

Contact between the two Koreas was initiated after the North Korean leader expressed hope during his annual New Year’s day address that a Pyongyang delegation might participate in the upcoming Winter Games which will take place in Pyeongchang, South Korea.

A hotline between Seoul and Pyongyang, which had remained unused for two years, also rang once again on Tuesday, in what has been broadly considered as a key diplomatic breakthrough.

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Nine drug addicts killed in Afghanistan shooting

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Kabul, Nine drug addicts were shot to death in an overnight shooting in a non-residential area in western side of Kabul, Afghanistan, the capital police said on Sunday.

“The shooting occurred at side of Qurugh Mountain in Police District 6 roughly at 8:00 p.m. on Saturday. Personnel of Kabul Criminal Investigation Police Department shifted the bodies to Forensic Science Service Department near Kabul University shortly after the shooting was reported,” Ferdaus Faramarz from Kabul police told Xinhua.

One arrest was made after the shooting and the motive behind the incident remained unclear. Further investigation is on, police added.

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31 civilians killed in Yemen airstrike: UN

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An airstrike in the Yemeni northeastern province of al-Jawf has killed at least 31 civilians and injured 12 others, the UN humanitarian coordinator for Yemen said in a statement on Sunday.

“We share our deep condolences with the families of those killed and we pray for the speedy recovery of everyone who has been injured in these terrible strikes,” Lise Grande said in the statement obtained by Xinhua.

“Under international humanitarian law parties which resort to force are obligated to protect civilians. Five years into this conflict and belligerents are still failing to uphold this responsibility,” she added.

The victims were killed in the airstrike on Saturday that targeted a gathering of people at the site where a Tornado warplane of the Saudi-led coalition crashed in al-Masloub district in the southwest of al-Jawf, according to a local tribal source.

The victims were members of three relative families, the source said on condition of anonymity. The strike came hours after the Houthi rebels claimed to have shot down the Tornado warplane.

Meanwhile, the Saudi-led coalition confirmed that a Tornado warplane crashed in al-Jawf during an operation to support Yemen’s government forces. The coalition held Houthis responsible for the lives and safety of the plane’s crew, according to a statement carried by the Saudi-owned Al Arabiya television.

The Saudi-led coalition has been fighting the Iran-allied Houthi rebels since its intervention in the Yemeni conflict in March 2015 to support the internationally-recognized government of Yemeni President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi.

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Japan confirms 70 new coronavirus cases from cruise ship

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Toky, Another 70 people aboard the virus-hit Diamond Princess cruise ship quarantined in Japan’s Yokohama have been tested positive for coronavirus (COVID-19), bringing the total to 355 cases, Health Minister Katsunobu Kato confirmed on Sunday.

The health ministry said that the 70 new cases came out of 289 people tested, bringing the total number of those who have undergone tests to 1,219, Japan Times reported.

The cruise ship arrived in Japan earlier this month with more than 3,700 passengers and crew members from more than 50 countries and regions.

With global attention increasingly focused on the situation, the US Embassy sent a letter on Saturday to Americans aboard saying that a chartered aircraft, set to arrive in Japan on Sunday, would repatriate those who wished to leave the ship.

The US aircraft is set to depart from Haneda Airport in Tokyo on Monday, according to Japanese official japan will also cooperate with other countries that make similar arrangements to evacuate their citizens on the ship, Japanese government officials said.

More than a week has passed since the cruise ship was put under a two-week quarantine at Yokohama port after a passenger who disembarked in Hong Kong was found to be infected with COVID-19, the pneumonia-causing coronavirus.

Japan’s health ministry had initially planned to keep all of the passengers and crew confined on the vessel until Wednesday, when the quarantine is scheduled to end.

But the ministry decided last Thursday to let passengers 80 and older, as well as their traveling companions, leave before the end of the quarantine after they were screened for infection.

Those with pre-existing conditions or who were staying in cabins without windows were prioritized for disembarkation.

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