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South Korea spy agency sees signs of planned new missile test by North Korea

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North Korean leader Kim Jong Un visits a cosmetics factory in this undated photo released by North Korea's Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) in Pyongyang on October 28, 2017. KCNA/via REUTERS

North Korea may be planning a new missile test, South Korea’s spy agency told lawmakers on Thursday, after brisk activity was spotted at its research facilities, just days before U.S. President Donald Trump visits Seoul.

Reclusive North Korea has carried out a series of nuclear and missile tests in defiance of U.N. Security Council resolutions, but has not launched any missiles since firing one over Japan on Sept. 15, the longest such lull this year.

However a flurry of activity including the movement of vehicles has been detected at the North’s missile research facilities in Pyongyang, where the most recent missile test was conducted, pointing to another possible launch, South Korea’s Intelligence Service said in a briefing to lawmakers.

It did not say how the activity was detected.

North Korea has made no secret of its plans to perfect a nuclear-tipped missile capable of reaching the U.S. mainland. It regularly threatens to destroy the United States and its “puppet”, South Korea.

“There is a possibility of a new missile launch given the active movement of vehicles around the missile research institute in Pyongyang. The North will constantly push for further nuclear tests going forward, and the miniaturization and diversification of warheads,” the intelligence agency said at the briefing.

The North’s nuclear testing site in the northwestern town of Punggye-ri could have been damaged by its sixth and largest nuclear test on Sept. 3, according to Kim Byung-kee, Yi Wan-young and Lee Tae-gyu, members of South Korea’s parliamentary intelligence committee.

The explosion triggered an aftershock within eight minutes and three additional shocks.

Japanese broadcaster TV Asahi, citing unnamed sources, said on Tuesday a tunnel at the test site collapsed after that explosion, possibly killing more than 200 people. Reuters has not been able to verify the report which North Korea on Thursday denounced as false and defamatory.

Pyongyang will likely detonate more devices as it tries to master the miniaturization of nuclear warheads to put atop missiles, the lawmakers said.

The third tunnel at the Punggye-ri complex remained ready for another test “at any time”, while construction had resumed at a fourth tunnel, making it unable to be used “for a considerable amount of time”, they added.

Trump is to visit five Asian nations in coming days for talks in which North Korea will be a major focus. The visit includes the North’s lone major ally, China, and U.S. allies Japan and South Korea, which have watched with increasing worry as Trump and North Korea have exchanged bellicose rhetoric.

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New attacks in Syria’s Eastern Ghouta after UNSC resolution

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Syria airstrike attack which killed 28 civilians (photo credit Getty images )
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Damascus, Feb 25: Syrian government forces on Sunday continued their airstrikes and shelling of Eastern Ghouta, a rebel-held suburb of the capital Damascus, hours after the UN Security Council (UNSC) approved resolution demanding a 30-day nationwide cease-fire.

On Sunday morning, two airstrikes targeted the town of al-Shifonia, while government troops launched missiles against Harasta, Karf Badna and Jesren, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR), a UK-based war monitor.

Despite fighting between government troops and the Jaysh al-Islam (Army of Islam), the SOHR reported that Saturday night was the calmest in the region since the government forces intensified their attacks on Eastern Ghouta as there were no casualties.

The attacks involved the use of heavy arms and were the first to take place in al-Shifonia since February 18, when the government forces started their campaign.

Also on Sunday, six surface-to-surface missiles were launched at Harasta, four targeted Karf Badna and Jesren and another four were launched at Hamouriyah, while al-Shifonia suffered two airstrikes, according to the SOHR.

The UNSC on Saturday unanimously approved a resolution demanding a 30-day, nationwide cease-fire in Syria, including Eastern Ghouta.

Under the cease-fire deal continued military operations will be authorised against groups regarded as terrorist organisations by the UN, including the Islamic State and Nusra Front, who now call themselves Tahrir al-Sham, which the Syrian government says is present in Eastern Ghouta.

A week of intense attacks on Eastern Ghouta killed at least 510 people, including 127 minors, according to latest figures.

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Communist Party proposes to lift two-year limit on President term, Xi Jinping may get another term in office

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In a major change in China’s political scenario the Communist Party of China Central committee has proposed to remove a clause from China’s constitution which forbids the president and vice president to serve more than two consecutive terms on the post.

President Xi Jinping’s first term will end on March 5 and as he has been re-elected so he will take on the president for the second term.

The proposal was made public on Sunday, state-owned media Xinhua reported.Other than the term the central committee has also proposed to add the Xi Jinping’s “Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era” to China’s Constitution.

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UNSC unanimously votes resolution ordering ceasefire in Syria

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United Nations, Feb 25: The ten elected non-permanent members (E10) of the UN Security Council pushed the five permanent members (P5) to reach a compromise and got an unanimous vote on a resolution ordering a ceasefire “without delay” in Syria to allow humanitarian aid to reach areas under siege.

After two days of delays and several postponements, Russia and the three western permanent members — Britain, France and the United States — agreed on Saturday, on the final version negotiated by Kuwait and Sweden with the backing of the P10.

Kuwait’s Permanent Representative Mansour Ayyad Al-Otaibi, who is the Council President for the month, said after the resolution passed that the unanimous vote was a “sign that the Security Council is united” and this could pave the way for finding a lasting political solution to the seven-year conflict.

Hoping to shame the permanent members locked in a standoff and push them to a compromise, all the the E10 representatives lined up together and held a news conference on Friday while the negotiations were on. “We want to show you the solidarity of the E10,” Al-Otaibi declared: “We are all united, we want the resolution to be adopted.”

The unrelenting push by Al-Otaibi and Sweden’s Permanent Representative Olof Skoog won praise from every one of the Council members. It was a rare instance of the E10 bending the P5, instead of the other way around.

Besides the nation-wide ceasefire, the resolution calls for the lifting of all sieges, facilitation of medical evacuations, and permitting convoys of the UN and its partners carrying humanitarian supplies free access.

However, the resolution made one notable exception to the ceasefire: It allowed continued action against the Islamic State, Al-Qaeda, A1-Nusra Front and other terrorist organisations.

The key point of contention that held up the resolution since it was formally introduced by Kuwait and Sweden on Wednesday was the timing of when the ceasefire should start. The US demanded it should be immediate, while Russia wanted lag before it went into effect and the threat of a Moscow veto hung over it.

The resolution now says it will come into force “without delay,” leaving an element of ambiguity subject to interpretations.

Speaking to reporters after the vote, Al-Otaibi said they debated about the timing during the negotiations all of Friday and into Saturday morning. “Without delay means” immediately, he said.

Russia’s Permanent Representative Vassily Nebenzia was non-commital about. He told reporters that the reason his country held out on the wording of the timing was that it was logistical issue and a “painful process on the ground.”

He added that another concern of Moscow was that resolution was not used as a pretext to launch an invasion of Syria.

With the drawn-out negotiations, Syria got three days to prepare for it.

Speaking in the Council after the vote, United States Permanent Representative Nikki Haley lashed out at Russia saying that during the time it held up the resolution to change a “few words and some commas,” mothers lost their children to bombing and shelling.

“The Syrian people should not have to die waiting for Russia to organise their instructions from Moscow, or to discuss it with the Syrians,” she added.

The action on the ceasefire was precipitated situation in East Ghouta, which UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has called “hell on Earth”. One of the few rebel-held territories, the Damascus suburb has been under a siege and bombed from the air by the Syrian government forces.

East Ghouta was specifically mentioned, along with several other areas, but the Kurdish city of Afrin was not. Intense fighting has been underway in the area between Turkey’s military and Kurdish militias backed by Syrian government forces.

Asked about it by reporters, Al-Otaiby said the ceasefire applied to all of Syria and to all forces operating there.

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