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North Korea snubs US, skips meeting on returning soldier remains

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Washington, July 13: North Korean officials did not show up to a scheduled meeting with US officials where they were expected to discuss on repatriating the remains of Americans killed during the Korean War.

The development is likely to fuel growing scepticism over North Korea’s commitment to a complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula as promised during last month’s meeting between President Donald Trump and Kim Jong-un in Singapore.

State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said on Thursday that the North Koreans postponed the meeting the day it was supposed to take place.

Citing a senior North Korean official, Nauert said: “Vice Chairman Kim Yong-chol agreed in his dialogue with Secretary (of State Mike) Pompeo to have his team meet with an American team on or about July 12 to move forward with the repatriation of American service members’ remains.

“Mid-day, on July the 12th, they contacted us and offered to meet on Sunday July 15,” Nauert said in a statement, adding “We’ll be ready”.

Trump has touted the return of remains as one of the successes of his historic June 12 summit with Kim.

It was reported last month that the Trump administration is expecting North Korea to return up to 200 sets of remains and that planning for the exchange has been underway.

United States even did the preparation for bringing back the  American service members’ remains by transporting 100 wooden  cases to the Demilitarized zone (DMZ ).

Health

Instagram influencers are a vaccine priority in wary Indonesia

Among the first in the queue for coronavirus vaccines in Indonesia has been one conspicuous group – social media influencers.

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Jakarta: Alongside President Joko Widodo as the world’s fourth most populous country kicked off its vaccination drive on Wednesday was Indonesian television personality, Raffi Ahmad, who boasts almost 50 million followers on Instagram.

“Alhamdulillah [Praise be to God] a vaccine … Don’t be afraid of vaccines,” the 33-year-old celebrity wrote under a video of him receiving the shot, next to a heart emoji and another of Indonesia’s red and white flag.

Deciding who should be first in line for limited vaccine doses has been a challenge around the world, with many countries prioritising vulnerable medics and the elderly.

Senior health ministry official, Siti Nadia Tarmizi, said the decision to include influencers alongside almost 1.5 million healthcare workers in the first round of inoculations was a deliberate government communications strategy.

Although Indonesia faces the most severe coronavirus outbreak in Southeast Asia – with more than 869,000 cases and 25,000 deaths – there has been scepticism around the safety and efficacy of any vaccine, and in the world’s biggest Muslim-majority nation, whether it is halal, or allowed under Islam.

Indonesians are among the top global users of social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

The health ministry did not say how many infuencers would be first in the vaccine line, but others due to receive a shot on Thursday included musicians Ariel, of the band Noah, and Risa Saraswati.

Ahyani Raksanagara, head of Bandung’s health agency, told Reuters the artists would “hopefully convey positive influence and messages” about the vaccines, and especially to young people.

A poll last month showed just 37% of Indonesians were willing to be vaccinated while 40% would consider it, and 17% refused.

Some doctors have raised doubts over Indonesia’s initial use of Chinese company Sinovac Biotech’s CoronaVac vaccine – with studies from Brazil, Indonesia and Turkey showing efficacies ranging from 50-91%.

But in another possible boost for chances of acceptance, the country’s top Islamic council has deemed the vaccine halal.

However the decision to include social media influencers on the priority list backfired somewhat when photos of Raffi showed him partying hours after he was given the injection – which does not confer immediate immunity.

The images of him unmasked and flouting social distancing protocols with a group of friends drew criticism on social media, with calls for him to set a better example.

“It also shows the government is inconsistent in prioritising who gets the vaccine first,” said Irma Hidayana, cofounder of pandemic data initiative LaporCOVID-19, “They should’ve done it with another health worker, maybe, not an influencer.”

Health ministry official Nadia noted that “when you’re vaccinated, you still have to abide by health protocols and not be careless in enforcing them”.

Zubairi Djoerban of the Indonesian Medical Association said the strategy to hire influencers could only work if “influencers are briefed about vaccine and COVID-19 so they can be agents of change”.

Police said they are investigating whether Raffi broke the law, while he has offered a public apology.

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World

Indonesian authorities extend search for plane crash victims

Indonesia’s National Search and Rescue Agency (Basarnas) has extended the search for victims of last week’s Sriwijaya Air plane crash as well as the aircraft’s cockpit voice recorder (CVR) and other materials for another three days, a top official said here on Friday.

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Jakarta: “It was decided that the joint search and rescue (SAR) operation to search for Sriwijaya Air victims will be extended for another three days until Monday,” Basarnas’ chief Bagus Puruhito told reporters.

The Boeing 737-500 passenger aircraft with 62 people aboard slammed into the Java Sea on January 9, minutes after take-off from Jakarta en route to Indonesian city of Pontianak in West Kalimantan province.

Basarnas’ search and rescue mission coordinator Rasman M.S. said on Friday that as many as 130 divers have been deployed to search for the victims and the aircraft’ materials.

The agency has also deployed 62 ships, 21 sea rider boats and jet skis as well as 13 airplanes.

Rasman said that the aerial search is being expanded to coastal areas.

As many as 239 body bags containing human remains had been retrieved and 12 victims have been identified after forensic examinations in the police’s hospital as of Thursday.

The National Transportation Safety Committee (KNKT) has retrieved data from the flight data recorder (FDR), but the search team is still looking for the aircraft’s CVR.

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Tech

Twitter CEO says banning Trump was right decision but sets dangerous precedent

Dorsey has said he believes those measures can promote more fruitful, or “healthy,” conversations online and lessen the impact of bad behavior.

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Twitter Inc Chief Executive Jack Dorsey said on Wednesday that banning President Donald Trump from its social media platform after last week’s violence at the U.S. Capitol was the “right decision,” but said it sets a dangerous precedent.

San Francisco-based Twitter last week removed Trump’s account, which had 88 million followers, citing the risk of further violence following the storming of the Capitol by supporters of the president.

“Having to take these actions fragment the public conversation,” Dorsey said on Twitter.

“They divide us. They limit the potential for clarification, redemption, and learning. And sets a precedent I feel is dangerous: the power an individual or corporation has over a part of the global public conversation.”

The ban drew criticism from some Republicans who said it quelled the president’s right to free speech. German Chancellor Angela Merkel also warned through a spokesman that legislators, not private companies, should decide on potential curbs to free expression.

In his Twitter thread, Dorsey said that while he took no pride in the ban, “Offline harm as a result of online speech is demonstrably real, and what drives our policy and enforcement above all.”

Even so, he added, “While there are clear and obvious exceptions, I feel a ban is a failure of ours ultimately to promote healthy conversation.”

Twitter has introduced a series of measures over the last year like labels, warnings and distribution restrictions to reduce the need for decisions about removing content entirely from the service.

Dorsey has said he believes those measures can promote more fruitful, or “healthy,” conversations online and lessen the impact of bad behavior.

The Twitter CEO added that bans by social media companies on Trump after last week’s violence were emboldened by each other’s actions even though they were not coordinated. But in the long term, the precedent set “will be destructive to the noble purpose and ideals of the open internet,” he said.

Supporters of Trump who has repeatedly made baseless claims challenging Democrat Joe Biden’s victory in the November election, stormed the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday, trying to halt the certification by Congress of Biden’s Electoral College win.

On Wednesday, Trump became the first president in U.S. history to be impeached twice.

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