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US, N Korea in informal talks for 3rd summit: Seoul

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Seoul, June 26 The US and North Korea were holding “behind-the-scenes talks” to explore the possibility of another bilateral summit, South Korean President Moon Jae-in said on Wednesday.

“Both sides have been engaged in dialogue in regard to a third summit,” the President said in an interview shared with Yonhap news agency and six other global news agencies. “It’s noteworthy that the behind-the-scenes talks have been preceded by the mutual understanding of each other’s position gained through the Hanoi summit,” Moon said.

He was referring to the second meeting between US President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un in February, which ended inconclusive.

According to the South Korean President, conditions are ripe for the resumption of formal denuclearisation talks. “There has already been considerable headway made in the peace process on the Korean Peninsula, and it is still making steady progress,” Moon said.

“The resumption of negotiations between North Korea and the US will take it to the next level. I believe everything has now fallen into place for that to happen,” he said.

Neither North Korea nor the US have said anything about formal talks since the failed Vietnam summit and Seoul has not been able to explain publicly which communication channels have been maintained with Pyongyang.

Some observers viewed it as thinly veiled pressure on both sides to restart talks immediately, Yonhap reported.

In Hanoi, Pyongyang pushed for a gradual process accompanied by the lifting of US sanctions, while Washington said it would lift sanctions only after Kim dismantled his nuclear programme.

Trump has said he will have talks with Kim “at some point”.

Asked by a reporter at the White House whether the summit issue was included in his recent exchange of personal letters with Kim, Trump replied, “Maybe there was, but we, you know, at some point, we’ll do that. Getting along very well. He’s not doing nuclear testing.”

It is also speculated that the US President could visit the inter-Korean border and make a gesture to invite Kim back to the negotiation table.

Talking about Seoul-Pyongyang ties, Moon said the dialogue is going on through “diverse channels” and he is prepared to meet Kim at any time.

The South Korean President is gearing up for a round of brisk bilateral and multilateral summit diplomacy later this week as he will participate in the two-day G20 summit in Osaka, Japan. He will then hold a weekend summit with Trump in Seoul.

Moon is also scheduled to meet Chinese President Xi Jinping on the Osaka session sidelines.

Business

Pakistan’s economy shows positive indicators: PM’s Office

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Imran Khan Pakistan PM

Islamabad, Feb 28 : Pakistan’s economic indicators are seeing a constant improvement due to efforts made by the current government to overcome the serious economic challenges, the Prime Minister’s Office said on Friday.

Prime Minister Imran Khan, chairing a meeting of his economic team, expressed satisfaction over the improvement in all sectors, adding that his government is making efforts to bring a trickle-down effect of the improving economy on general public and in this regard steps are being taken to provide relief to low income and salaried class of the country, Xinhua reported.

He also directed the economic team to keep the public updated about the positive indicators of the economy in a bid to win the confidence of the local businessman to invest in the country.

Earlier this month, the prime minister approved subsidy of Pakistani Rs 10 billion ($65 million) on five essential food items for controlling rampant inflation in the country.

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Iranian vice president tests positive for coronavirus

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Tehran, Feb 28 Iran’s Vice President for Women and Family Affairs Masoumeh Ebtekar has tested positive for the coronavirus, an official said on Thursday.

Ebtekar’s adviser Fariba Ibtihaj said the vice president tested positive for COVID-19 on Wednesday, Iran’s official IRNA news agency  reported.

“Everyone in the vice president’s team was also tested and the results will be available on Saturday,” she said.

Ebtekar is not the first high-ranking Iranian official to contract the virus.

Ebtekar, joins the deputy health minister, the head of the national security commission and a reformist MP who have been infected with the virus, reports Efe news.

She tested positive on Thursday after showing symptoms the previous day during a cabinet meeting, according to state TV.

The politician is one of the most recognizable in the Islamic Republic and previously held the position of environment minister.

Iran has reported 26 deaths from the deadly disease and 245 cases total with a dramatic surge of 106 new infections registered on Thursday, the Health Ministry said.

Tehran authorities have decided to close down schools and universities in the country to curb the spread of the disease.

Friday prayers in the capital have also been cancelled.

Amid the spread of the virus, neighbouring countries have closed their land borders with Iran and most airlines have suspended their flights or imposed restrictions on air travel to the country.

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COVID-19 cases in South Korea reach 2,022, 13 deaths

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Seoul, Feb 28 The number of coronavirus cases in South Korea increased to 2,022 on Friday, with a total of 13 fatalities as the nation aggressively counters the fast-spreading virus with massive testing, particularly for 210,000 followers of a religious sect at the centre of the epidemic.

The 256 new cases brought the nation’s total infections to 2,022, the Yonhap News Agency quoted the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (KCDC) as saying.

Only two days ago, the number of infections exceeded 1,000.

More than half of newly confirmed cases were linked to a branch of the Shincheonji Church of Jesus in the southeastern city of Daegu, 300 km southeast of Seoul.

Of the 256 new cases, 182 are in Daegu, and 49 are in the neighbouring North Gyeongsang Province.

Since raising the virus alert level to “red”, the highest level, on Sunday, health authorities have focused on halting the spread of the virus in Daegu, the epicentre of the virus outbreak in South Korea, and North Gyeongsang.

Experts said the number of confirmed cases is expected to jump in the coming days as health authorities have begun testing more than 210,000 members of the Shincheonji Church of Jesus.

The government also ordered another 1,638 Shincheonji followers to self-isolate as they have shown symptoms, Yonhap News Agency said in its report.

Since the first coronavirus case — a Chinese woman from Wuhan, the epicentre of the outbreak — on January 20, the pace of infections had not been alarming until February 18, when a 61-year-old woman who is tied to the Daegu religious sect tested positive for the virus.

Since then, the nation has seen an explosion in infections as it accelerated virus tests on potential cases.

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