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Kim Jong-un's invitation for Pope Francis to visit North Korea condemned as propaganda stunt

Kim Jong-un's invitation for Pope Francis to visit North Korea condemned as propaganda stuntA human rights activist has criticised North Korea’s invitation for the Pope to visit Pyongyang as an “impure manoeuvre” designed to fool the world into believing that the regime is becoming more open to religious freedoms.  South Korea’s presidential Blue House announced on Tuesday that Kim Jong-un, the North Korean leader, extended the invitation during his summit in September in Pyongyang with Moon Jae-in, his South Korean counterpart. Mr Moon, a practising Catholic, will pass the offer on when he meets the Pope at the Vatican next week, part of his upcoming nine-day visit to Europe.  Activists say Mr Kim’s offer is “propaganda”. “There are no religious freedoms in North Korea and the regime does not permit worship of anything other than the Kim family”, said Song Young-chae, a member of the Seoul-based Worldwide Coalition to Stop Genocide in North Korea.  “The intention behind this impure manoeuvre is clearly to try to convince the rest of the world that they are changing, that they are improving their human rights record and that they can be trusted”, he told The Telegraph. “Mr Kim wants a public meeting with the Pope for propaganda reasons”. At a glance | North Korea’s human rights record Two churches were constructed in Pyongyang in the 1980s, along with a Russian Orthodox church that was completed in 2006, but Mr Song said they are merely for show and that “the church is just a puppet to the Kim family”.  After interviewing dozens of defectors, the 2014 United Nations Commission of Inquiry concluded there was “an almost complete denial of the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion” in North Korea, while the US State Department’s 2017 paper on religious freedoms in the North said the government exacts harsh punishments on those who insist on following their religion, including executions, torture, beatings and arrest.  The Catholic church estimated that there were around 55,000 followers of the Catholic religion in North Korea when the Korean War broke out in 1950, but that figure is believed to have dwindled to a maximum of 4,000.  Kim Jong-il, the father of the present North Korean leader, invited Pope John Paul II to North Korea in 2000. The trip never materialised, however, reportedly because the Vatican insisted at the time that the Pope would only visit if Catholic priests were permitted to worship in the North.  “It’s impossible for the Pope to go”, said Toshimitsu Shigemura, a professor at Tokyo’s Waseda University and an authority on the North Korean leadership.  “To permit religious freedoms would undermine the cult of personality that has been built up around the Kim family, so this offer is solely designed to deflect criticisms over human rights”, he said. 



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North Koreans finally told about Kim Jong-un's Singapore summit with Donald Trump

North Koreans finally told about Kim Jong-un's Singapore summit with Donald TrumpNorth Koreans were offered a rare glimpse into their reclusive leader’s schedule on Monday after the tightly controlled state media issued surprisingly detailed reports of his trip to Singapore.  In a seven-minute morning bulletin, star newsreader Ri Chun Hee, 75, revealed the news of Kim Jong-un’s arrival in the tiny Asian city-state 3,000 miles south of Pyongyang in her typically melodramatic style, clad, as always for major announcements, in a traditional Korean pink and black dress.  For decades, Ms Ri has been entrusted with announcing great moments in North Korean history. Against the backdrop of Mount Paektu, a dormant volcano symbolising Korean nationhood, she said Kim had met Lee Hsien Loong, Singapore’s prime minister, and would hold talks with President Donald Trump.  The Rodong Sinmun newspaper had a two-page colour spread on Kim’s departure for a “historic summit” and the Korean Central News Agency declared that the meeting would address denuclearisation, permanent peace on the Peninsula and other matters “required by the changed era.” The coordinated messaging appeared to be designed both to prime the North Korean public for potential change, and also to dispel rumours that Kim did not wish to publicise the trip – his first as leader outside of his own borders or nearby China – for fear of a coup.  Trump-Kim summit in pictures: Best photos from Donald Trump and Kim Jong-un's meeting in Singapore The Rodong Sinmun spread underlined that Kim would be meeting Trump to discuss “wide-ranging and profound views” to establish new US-North Korea relations. Talks would include a “durable peace-keeping mechanism on the Korean Peninsula,” it added.  Carefully chosen photos used in TV and print reports attempted to maximise Kim’s statesman-like image. Mr Trump’s agreement to meet with him, the first time a sitting president has ever done so, has handed a political coup to the young leader who rose to power in 2011.  A two-page color spread in this morning's Rodong Sinmum: North Korea announces that Kim Jong Un has left for a "historic summit" with the president of the United States. Clearly shows that he left in a Chinese plane too. pic.twitter.com/UBhZC1YzRa— Anna Fifield (@annafifield) June 10, 2018 Ri Chun Hee’s broadcast showed stills of Kim inspecting a guard of honour at Pyongyang airport before his departure to Singapore, and of his motorcade approaching the downtown luxury St Regis hotel where he is staying.  Kim was also shown shaking the hand of Prime Minister Lee, as well as several shots of the two leaders seated a table in the Istana hotel while holding bilateral talks.  Pictures used by state media also clearly showed Kim boarding a Chinese chartered plane, waving to wellwishers while standing next to a painted Chinese national flag. North Korean TV just aired a report on Kim's Sunday departure, arrival and meet with Singapore PM. 5 repeats scheduled today. If you're curious what "Donald J Trump" sounds like in Korean, see if you can hear Ri Chun Hee say his name. Full video: t.co/LpEIyUOAwUpic.twitter.com/jE9u3Nhaiy— Martyn Williams (@martyn_williams) June 11, 2018 The Air China 747 was reportedly chosen over Kim’s aging Russian-made Ilyushin-62 private jet, for safety reasons.  However, analysts noted that it was uncommon for Pyongyang’s media to reveal the charter of a foreign plane, which contradicted the North Korean government’s ideology of “juche”, the principle of self-reliance.  Some speculated that the carefully stage-managed pictures were deliberately intended to convey close bilateral ties with China after a long period of frosty relations.  “The charter of a Chinese airplane may have an effect of publicising China’s active support and cooperation to the North Korean people ahead of summit talks with the US,” Yang Moo-jin, a professor at Seoul’s University of North Korean studies told the Yonhap news agency.  Kim Jong-un meets Lee Hsien Loong, Singapore's prime minister Credit: Edgar Su/Reuters Three planes arrived from Pyongyang on Sunday, leading to much speculation before Kim arrived about which one he was on.  The IL-62, named Chammae-1 after North Korea’s national bird, was among them and was believed to be carrying Kim Yo-jong, the leader’s younger sister.  First to arrive was an IL-76 transport plane which, the Chosun Ilbo reported, contained not only Kim’s bullet-proof stretch limousine and food for the trip, but his personal portable toilet.  The portaloo, which first featured at the inter-Korean summit with Moon Jae-in, South Korea’s president, in April, is reportedly an extreme security measure to prevent foreign powers from discovering sensitive details about Kim’s health by collecting stool samples.    The paranoid supreme leader has also brought his jogging security guards with him, who have already been spotted running beside his Mercedes Benz in suits and ties despite Singapore's 35 degrees heat. The elite bodyguards were a popular distraction at the inter-Korean summit in April when they first caught the world's attention.  While they may look like extras in a spoof Hollywood spy movie, the young men are hand-picked from the Korean People's Army and must have perfect eyesight, marksmanship and martial arts skills.  They are also entrusted with the all-important task of inspecting Kim's food, and with carrying the liquor and cigarettes he requires when on the road. Kim's smoking habit has caused some consternation in the Singaporean press, with the Straits Times pointing out that smoking is banned indoors, and speculating on whether special arrangements might be made to accommodate him. 



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Kim Jong-un's brother 'met US agent' days before VX nerve agent attack

Kim Jong-un's brother 'met US agent' days before VX nerve agent attackKim Jong-nam, the estranged half-brother of North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un, reportedly met with an American intelligence agent just days before he was killed with the nerve agent VX in Kuala Lumpur International Airport in February 2017. The Malaysian court hearing the case against two women who are accused of murdering Kim Jong-nam heard this week that he travelled to the resort island of Langkawi and met with a Korean-American agent on February 9. Wan Azirul Nizam, who is heading the investigation, told the court that police have not been able to identify the agent.  He was, however, able to confirm that Mr Kim had been carrying $ 138,000 in cash in his backpack when he was attacked at the airport four days later , while an analysis of his laptop computer has revealed that a memory device was inserted into the computer several times on February 9. The device has not been recovered. "We know that Mr Kim has in the past spoken with South Korean intelligence officials and that he was under Chinese protection while he was in China and Macau, so it should not be a surprise that he was also talking to the Americans", said Toshimitsu Shigemura, a professor at Tokyo's Waseda University and an authority on North Korea's ruling family. Mr Shigemura said Kim would have been seeking money for information on the regime in Pyongyang, while the US may also have been sounding him out on the possibility of taking over the reins in North Korean should some sort of accident befall his half-brother. "The Americans want all the intelligence that they can gather on Kim Jong-un to determine the strength of his power base, whether he faces any internal dissent, who are the up-and-coming individuals in the regime and who is on the way out", he told The Telegraph. "They are also constantly trying to figure out whether he is willing to negotiate on some issues or whether he is standing fast, and even whether he is simply dangerous. Kim Jong-nam, half-brother of Kim Jong-un, in pictures "But they will be particularly interested in any rumours of a coup against Mr Kim," he added. There have been hints of unrest in the military in recent weeks, Mr Shigemura added, after it was decided to alter the official date of the creation of the North Korean armed forces so that it falls after the founding of the Korean Workers' Party. The inference is that Mr Kim is breaking away from his father's "military first" policy in favour of the party, while there have also been rumours of senior military officials being purged. Analysts believe that an internal uprising would be the most "legitimate" way of removing Kim Jong-un as dictator, with China reportedly perceiving Kim Jong-nam as a potential heir to the dynasty. Kim Jong-un | A history of executions – family, allies and rivals "Chinese officials have said that quite openly in the past and it is likely that the US had reached a similar conclusion", Mr Shigemura said. The case against Doan Thi Huong, a 29-year-old Vietnamese national, and Siti Aisyah, 25, from Indonesia, continues. Both women have pleaded not guilty and claim they were asked by a group of men to take part in a prank for a television programme. They were paid to approach Mr Kim in the airport's departure area and wipe his face, but claim they were not aware they were applying a lethal nerve agent. The four men quickly left Malaysia and later flew to North Korea. Pyongyang has denied any involvement in the case.



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China condemns both North Korea and US amid difficult balancing act over Kim Jong-un's nuclear ambitions

China condemns both North Korea and US amid difficult balancing act over Kim Jong-un's nuclear ambitionsChina is treading a very fine line as the crisis over North Korea’s nuclear ambitions continues to escalate, condemning its neighbour for its latest missile test but also calling for calm from all sides – and in doing so making it clear to the US it will not be bullied into action it does not want to take. North Korean leader Kim Jong-un’s “dangerous game of brinkmanship” was admonished by Xinhua, China’s official news agency.



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