Global News Journal

Beyond the World news headlines

The “hostile racket” that comes with North Korea’s human rights season

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Once a year, North Korea’s often vitriolic rhetoric machine fires up with special intensity to attack those who attack its human rights record. The exchanges usually come toward the end of the year when the U.N. General Assembly approves what has become an annual measure criticising North Korea for having one of the worst rights records in the world.

Reclusive North Korea is a member of only a few international organisations so the annual rebuke at the United Nations stings particularly hard for the state that bills itself as a workers’ paradise, or as it said in a state media report on Tuesday: “the best socialist state in the world as it is centred on the popular masses”.

North Korea comes under special scrutiny this year because it will be subject to official international questioning of its human rights record at the United Nations in December, which could provide even more embarrassment for the North’s thinned-skinned leaders as the prickly state is put on the defensive.
North Korea has prepared for this event by changing its Constitution earlier this year and adding clauses about human rights protections.

But many of the rights of North Korean citizens spelled out in the document are not carried out. For example, it guarantees freedom of assembly, but Pyongyang can send to political prison anyone who gathers without permission of authorities. The regime guarantees freedom of religion, but jails those who try to exercise the right. Privacy is a right, but the government’s large internal spy network keeps tabs on almost all citizens.

Forget about light bulbs – Iran wants a seat at the table

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For years Mohamed ElBaradei, Nobel Peace Prize laureate and outgoing head of the U.N. International Atomic Energy Agency, has warned the United States and other Western powers against jumping to conclusions about Iran’s nuclear program. While Washington, Israel and their allies see increasing indications that Tehran’s secretive nuclear program is aimed at developing weapons, ElBaradei told an audience of academics, politicians and diplomats at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York City that his agency has “no concrete evidence” that Tehran is pursuing an atom bomb.

So is Iran’s nuclear program intended solely for lighting light bulbs in the world’s fourth biggest oil producer as Tehran insists? According to ElBaradei, its purpose is something completely different.

North Korea’s Great Leader knew his cabbage

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One of the primary aims of North Korea’s propaganda machine is to show its founder Kim Il-sung and current leader Kim Jong-il as all-knowing, parent-like (and at times god-like) figures who devote themselves entirely to bettering the lives of every citizen of the state.

Kim Il-sung, known as the “Great Leader” is also the eternal president of the state formed at the start of the Cold War. His son Kim Jong-il, who took over when his father died in 1994, is known as the “Dear Leader.”

from Changing China:

Grandpa Wen, so happy to see you!

North Korea knows how to put on a show for honoured guests. Visiting Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao was this week treated to a special performance of the "Arirang" mass games, the world's biggest choreographed extravaganza with as many as 100,000 participants.

Part circus act, part rhythmic gymnastics, the display features dancing girls, goose-stepping soldiers and a massive flip-card section animated by ranks of performers, which this time included one-off Chinese messages added for Wen.

North Korea tries fast food. Juche Burgers for the masses?

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There are no McDonald’s, Starbucks or KFC joints in reclusive North Korea, but there is the Samthaesong Soft Drink Restaurant, which is the North’s take on fast food complete with waffles on the menu. The communist state, which has its “juche” ideal of self-reliance as a guiding principal, said the restaurant offers the finest fast food in the land made from home-grown ingredients.

Even though the restaurant will serve the masses in Pyongyang, most North Koreans outside the capital struggle to find enough to eat in a country that battles chronic food shortages.

North Korea’s “Dear Leader” opens umbrella boom

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Kim Jong-il may be at the forefront of a fashion trend that has just hit the streets of Pyongyang: Using oversized umbrellas as parasols.

The North Korean leader started travelling this year with a soldier whose job is to carry a large black umbrella to protect him from the sun.

from Tales from the Trail:

North Korea requests Clinton. So off he goes.

KOREA-NORTH/It turns out that it was North Korea which had suggested that former President Bill Clinton would be the best person to come and negotiate the release of two journalists who had been sentenced to 12 years of hard labor in the Stalinist state.
 
The U.S. government -- particularly Secretary of State Hillary Clinton -- had been working for months on trying to free the two journalists. The secretary of state reportedly proposed sending various people to Pyongyang, including Clinton's former vice president Al Gore, to lobby for the women's release.
 
But North Korea rejected Gore and other possible envoys like Senator John Kerry, Governor Bill Richardson and former ambassador to South Korea Donald Gregg. Pyongyang wanted President Clinton and passed that word along through the two detained journalists, Laura Ling and Euna Lee, who were making occasional phone calls to their families.
 
"In mid-July during one such phone call, Ms. Ling and Ms. Lee shared what the North Koreans had told them -- that they would be willing to grant them amnesty and release the two Americans if an envoy in the person of President Clinton would agree to come to Pyongyang and seek their release," a senior administration official said.

KOREA-NORTH/The families passed the request along to Gore, who co-founded the media group that employs the women. Gore then asked the Obama administration if the former president could make the trip.

from Tales from the Trail:

Bill grabs spotlight from Hillary

KOREA-NORTH/For months, Bill Clinton has stayed out of the diplomatic spotlight in deference to his wife.

But the former U.S. president has dominated the news since he turned up in North Korea seeking the release of two American journalists, while Hillary Clinton headed to Africa for her first major trip there as the top U.S. diplomat.

How Ill is Kim Jong-il?

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Photo:A compilation by Reuters of pool photographs and images provided by North Korea’s KCNA news agency showing North Korean leader Kim Jong-il from 2004 to 2009. The photograph in the lower right was released this week by KCNA

By Jon Herskovitz

The image the world once had of North Korean leader Kim Jong-il, with a trademark paunch, platform shoes and a bouffant hair-do, is gone and may never come back. He has now become a gaunt figure with thinning hair who has trouble walking in normal shoes, let alone ones with heels 8-10 centimetres (3-4 inches) high like he used to wear.

What do we know about Kim Jong-il and North Korea?

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Former U.S. defence secretary Donald Rumsfeld’s attempts to be philosophical about ‘known unknowns’ and ‘unknown unknowns’ gave him a reputation for slipperiness and cant. The phrases uttered in 2002 to explain the military’s failure to improve security in Afghanistan have passed into folklore, alongside such gems as ’stuff happens,’ which was his explanation for the looting that followed the toppling of Saddam Hussein in Iraq in 2003.

The ‘known unknown’ concept is a more useful tool in journalism than you would think from the derision heaped on Rumsfeld by reporters. As journalists we spend our time uncovering facts, reporting data, breaking news and offering insights into the meaning of events. We rarely stop to contemplate what we do not know, what we cannot know and what impact that ignorance has in shaping perceptions.

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