US Retaliates for Russia's Suspension of New START Treaty by Revoking Visas of Nuclear Inspectors

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken speaks at a press conference following the NATO foreign ministers meeting n Oslo, Norway, Thursday, June 1, 2023. (AP Photo/Sergei Grits)
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken speaks at a press conference following the NATO foreign ministers meeting n Oslo, Norway, Thursday, June 1, 2023. (AP Photo/Sergei Grits)
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US Retaliates for Russia's Suspension of New START Treaty by Revoking Visas of Nuclear Inspectors

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken speaks at a press conference following the NATO foreign ministers meeting n Oslo, Norway, Thursday, June 1, 2023. (AP Photo/Sergei Grits)
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken speaks at a press conference following the NATO foreign ministers meeting n Oslo, Norway, Thursday, June 1, 2023. (AP Photo/Sergei Grits)

The Biden administration is retaliating for Russia’s suspension of the New START nuclear treaty, announcing Thursday it is revoking the visas of Russian nuclear inspectors, denying pending applications for new monitors and canceling standard clearances for Russian aircraft to enter US airspace.

The State Department said it was taking those steps and others in response to Russia’s “ongoing violations” of New START, the last arms control treaty remaining between the two countries, which are currently at severe odds over the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

“The United States is committed to full and mutual implementation of the New START treaty,” it said. “Consistent with that commitment, the United States has adopted lawful countermeasures in response to the Russian Federation’s ongoing violations of the New START treaty.”

The department said the visa revocations and application denials, as well as a US decision to stop sharing information on the status or locations of missiles and telemetry data on test launches with Russia, were consistent with international law because of Russia’s actions.

The US will, however, continue to notify Russia when it conducts test launches, it said, adding that the steps it was taking were reversible provided Moscow returns to compliance with the treaty.

Russia suspended its participation in New START in February in a move that the US said was “legally invalid.” Immediately afterward Moscow curtailed its adherence to the accord.

Allowing inspections of weapons sites and providing information on the placement of intercontinental and submarine-based ballistic missiles and their test launches are critical components of New START, which then-Presidents Barack Obama and Dmitry Medvedev signed in 2010.

In March, the US announced that it and Russia had stopped sharing biannual nuclear weapons data. The US had said it wanted to continuing such sharing but stopped after Moscow informed Washington that it would not share its data.

Despite being extended shortly after President Joe Biden took office in January 2021, New START has been severely tested by Russia’s war in Ukraine and has been on life support for since Russian President Vladimir Putin announced Russia would no longer comply with its requirements.

The treaty limits each country to no more than 1,550 deployed nuclear warheads and 700 deployed missiles and bombers. The agreement envisages sweeping on-site inspections to verify compliance.

The inspections went dormant in 2020 because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Discussions on resuming them were supposed to have taken place in November 2022, but Russia abruptly called them off, citing US support for Ukraine.

The State Department said Russia had been told of the countermeasures ahead of time and also advised that Washington is still interested in keeping the treaty alive.

“The United States remains ready to work constructively with Russia on resuming implementation of the New START Treaty,” it said.



Colombia Orders the Opening of Embassy in Palestinian Territory

Palestinians hold Palestinian flags as they take part in a protest to mark the 76th anniversary of the Nakba, the "catastrophe" of their mass dispossession in the 1948 war surrounding Israel's creation, in Ramallah, in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, May 15, 2024. REUTERS/Mohamad Torokman
Palestinians hold Palestinian flags as they take part in a protest to mark the 76th anniversary of the Nakba, the "catastrophe" of their mass dispossession in the 1948 war surrounding Israel's creation, in Ramallah, in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, May 15, 2024. REUTERS/Mohamad Torokman
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Colombia Orders the Opening of Embassy in Palestinian Territory

Palestinians hold Palestinian flags as they take part in a protest to mark the 76th anniversary of the Nakba, the "catastrophe" of their mass dispossession in the 1948 war surrounding Israel's creation, in Ramallah, in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, May 15, 2024. REUTERS/Mohamad Torokman
Palestinians hold Palestinian flags as they take part in a protest to mark the 76th anniversary of the Nakba, the "catastrophe" of their mass dispossession in the 1948 war surrounding Israel's creation, in Ramallah, in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, May 15, 2024. REUTERS/Mohamad Torokman

Colombian President Gustavo Petro has ordered the opening of an embassy in the Palestinian city of Ramallah, Foreign Minister Luis Gilberto Murillo told journalists on Wednesday.
"President Petro has given the order that we open the Colombian embassy in Ramallah, the representation of Colombia in Ramallah, that is the next step we are going to take," Murillo said.
Murillo added he believes more countries will soon begin backing the recognition of a Palestinian state before the United Nations, efforts Colombia has already supported, Reuters reported.
At the beginning of this month, Petro, who had already recalled the Colombian ambassador from Tel Aviv, said he would break diplomatic relations with Israel over its actions in Gaza. The embassy was closed on May 3.
Petro has heavily criticized Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and has requested to join South Africa's case accusing Israel of genocide at the International Court of Justice.
Israeli Foreign Minister Israel Katz accused Petro of being "antisemitic and full of hate" following Colombia's decision to cut ties with the Middle Eastern country, saying the move was a reward for Hamas.
Ramallah, in the West Bank, serves as the administrative capital of the Palestinian Authority.
On May 10, the United Nations General Assembly overwhelmingly backed a Palestinian bid to become a full UN member by recognizing it as qualified to join and recommended the UN Security Council "reconsider the matter favorably."
Israel has been rooting out Hamas in Gaza over a brutal rampage by Hamas group in Israel on Oct. 7 in which 1,200 people were killed and more than 250 taken hostage. Nearly 36,000 Palestinians have been killed in the war, according to the Gaza health ministry.
Israel's response has drawn heavy international criticism, with aid access into southern Gaza disrupted since it stepped up military operations in Rafah, a move that the UN says has forced 900,000 people to flee and has raised tensions with neighboring Egypt.
Colombia was not the first Latin American country to cut ties with Israel.
Bolivia broke relations with Israel at the end of October last year while several other countries in Latin America, including Chile and Honduras, have recalled their ambassadors.


Iran's Raisi to Be Laid to Rest in Home Town

Mourners attend the funeral of Iran's president Ebrahim Raisi in Tehran. ATTA KENARE / AFP
Mourners attend the funeral of Iran's president Ebrahim Raisi in Tehran. ATTA KENARE / AFP
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Iran's Raisi to Be Laid to Rest in Home Town

Mourners attend the funeral of Iran's president Ebrahim Raisi in Tehran. ATTA KENARE / AFP
Mourners attend the funeral of Iran's president Ebrahim Raisi in Tehran. ATTA KENARE / AFP

Iran's president Ebrahim Raisi, who was killed in a helicopter crash, will be buried Thursday in his hometown after two days of funeral processions attended by thousands of mourners.
Raisi, 63, died on Sunday alongside his foreign minister and six others when their helicopter crashed in the country's mountainous northwest while returning from a dam inauguration, said AFP.
His final resting place will be at the holy shrine of Imam Reza, a key Shiite mausoleum in the northeastern city of Mashhad, where the ultra-conservative president was born.
Images published by Iranian media on Wednesday showed officials in Mashhad preparing for the final day of funerary rites.
Large photos of Raisi, black flags and Shiite symbols were erected throughout the streets of Iran's second city, particularly around the Imam Reza shrine.
Massive crowds had gathered for a funeral procession on Wednesday in the capital Tehran to pay their final respects to the president, whom officials and media dubbed a "martyr".
Supreme leader Ali Khamenei -- whom Raisi had been widely expected to succeed -- led prayers for the late president, kneeling before the coffins of the eight people killed in the crash.
Among them was foreign minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian, who will also be buried Thursday in the shrine of Shah Abdol-Azim in the town of Shahr-Rey south of the capital.
June 28 election
An afternoon ceremony for Raisi was held on Wednesday in which around 60 countries took part, said state news agency IRNA.
Member countries of the European Union were among the absentees of the ceremony, while some non-member countries, including Belarus and Serbia had their representatives.
Khamenei, who wields ultimate authority in Iran, has declared five days of national mourning and assigned vice president Mohammad Mokhber, 68, as caretaker president until a June 28 election for Raisi's successor.
A presidential election in Iran had not been expected until next year, and Sunday's crash has caused some uncertainty as to who will succeed Raisi, with some expressing concern about the upcoming president.
"How do I find someone like him? I'm really worried about that," said 31-year-old cleric Mohsen at Wednesday's funeral in Tehran. "As far as I know, we don't have anyone of his stature."
Raisi was elected president in 2021, succeeding the moderate Hassan Rouhani at a time when the economy was battered by US sanctions imposed over Iran's nuclear activities.
The ultra-conservative's time in office saw mass protests, a deepening economic crisis and unprecedented armed exchanges with arch-enemy Israel.
After his death, Russia and China sent their condolences, as did NATO, while the UN Security Council observed a minute's silence.
Messages of condolence also flooded in from Iran's allies around the region, including the Syrian government as well as Hamas and Hezbollah.


Strong Winds Topple Stage at Campaign Rally in Mexico, Killing at Least 9

People look at a forensic service vehicle at the site after a gust of wind caused a structure to collapse, resulting in multiple fatalities and injuries, at a campaign event for the Citizens' Movement party, in San Pedro Garza Garcia, Nuevo Leon, Mexico May 22, 2024. REUTERS/Daniel Becerril
People look at a forensic service vehicle at the site after a gust of wind caused a structure to collapse, resulting in multiple fatalities and injuries, at a campaign event for the Citizens' Movement party, in San Pedro Garza Garcia, Nuevo Leon, Mexico May 22, 2024. REUTERS/Daniel Becerril
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Strong Winds Topple Stage at Campaign Rally in Mexico, Killing at Least 9

People look at a forensic service vehicle at the site after a gust of wind caused a structure to collapse, resulting in multiple fatalities and injuries, at a campaign event for the Citizens' Movement party, in San Pedro Garza Garcia, Nuevo Leon, Mexico May 22, 2024. REUTERS/Daniel Becerril
People look at a forensic service vehicle at the site after a gust of wind caused a structure to collapse, resulting in multiple fatalities and injuries, at a campaign event for the Citizens' Movement party, in San Pedro Garza Garcia, Nuevo Leon, Mexico May 22, 2024. REUTERS/Daniel Becerril

 A strong gust of wind toppled the stage at a campaign rally Wednesday evening in the northern Mexican state of Nuevo Leon, killing at least nine people — including a child — and injuring 63, the state's governor said.
The collapse occurred during an event attended by presidential long-shot candidate Jorge Álvarez Máynez, who ran to escape. Videos of the collapse on social media showed people screaming, running away and climbing out from under metal polls, The Associated Press reported.
The victims “will not be alone in this tragedy,” Máynez told reporters Wednesday night, adding that he had suspended upcoming campaign events.
Afterward, soldiers, police and other officials roamed the grounds of the park where the event took place while many nearby sat stunned and haunted by the tragedy.
Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador said he “sends a hug to family members, friends of the victims and political supporters.” Condolences poured in from across Mexico, including by other presidential candidates.
In a video message, Nuevo Leon Gov. Samuel Garcia, a leading member of Máynez’s Citizens Movement party, asked residents to shelter in their houses for the next two hours.
Máynez wrote in his social media accounts that he went to a hospital after the accident in the wealthy suburb of San Pedro Garza Garcia, near the city of Monterrey. He said he was in good condition.
“The only important thing at this point is to care for the victims of the accident,” he wrote.
Videos of the accident showed Máynez waving his arm as the crowd chanted his name. But then he looked up to see a giant screen and metal structure toppling toward him. He ran rapidly toward the back of the stage to avoid the falling structure, which appeared to consist of relatively light framework pieces as well as what appeared to be a screen with the party’s logo and theater-style lights.
Máynez has been running third in polls in the presidential race, trailing both front-runner Claudia Sheinbaum of the ruling Morena Party and opposition coalition candidate Xóchitl Gálvez. Both sent their condolences, and Sheinbaum canceled a campaign event in nearby Monterrey the next day “in solidarity” with victims and their loved ones.
“My condolences and prayers with the families of the dead, and my wishes for a speedy recovery to all those injured,” wrote Gálvez in a social media post.
The accident happened at the height of campaign season, with many events held this week and next in anticipation of the June 2 presidential, state and municipal elections.

Campaign events are being held this week and next in anticipation of the June 2 presidential, state and municipal elections.


Facing Criticism, Trump Says He Won't Ban Birth Control

US President Donald Trump addresses the annual March for Life rally, taking place on the National Mall, from the White House Rose Garden in Washington, US, January 19, 2018. REUTERS/Carlos Barria/ File Photo Purchase Licensing Rights
US President Donald Trump addresses the annual March for Life rally, taking place on the National Mall, from the White House Rose Garden in Washington, US, January 19, 2018. REUTERS/Carlos Barria/ File Photo Purchase Licensing Rights
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Facing Criticism, Trump Says He Won't Ban Birth Control

US President Donald Trump addresses the annual March for Life rally, taking place on the National Mall, from the White House Rose Garden in Washington, US, January 19, 2018. REUTERS/Carlos Barria/ File Photo Purchase Licensing Rights
US President Donald Trump addresses the annual March for Life rally, taking place on the National Mall, from the White House Rose Garden in Washington, US, January 19, 2018. REUTERS/Carlos Barria/ File Photo Purchase Licensing Rights

Donald Trump said he does not support a ban on birth control, after coming under fire for comments he made earlier in the day that political opponents said suggested he would consider restricting contraceptives.

“I HAVE NEVER, AND WILL NEVER ADVOCATE IMPOSING RESTRICTIONS ON BIRTH CONTROL," the Republican presidential candidate said on his social media site, Truth Social.

Earlier on Tuesday, he was asked in an interview with KDKA News in Pittsburgh if he supported any restrictions on the right of people to use contraception.

“We’re looking at that,” he responded, “and I’m going to have a policy on that very shortly, and I think it’s something that you’ll find interesting.”

Asked if that included the so-called morning-after pill, Trump said, “Things really do have a lot to do with the states, and some states are going to have different policy than others."

The fight over reproductive rights is a flashpoint in the 2024 presidential race, Reuters reported. Opinion polls show most Americans don’t favor strict limits on those rights, and Democrats are hoping the issue will encourage millions of women and independents to vote their way.

Democrat Joe Biden's campaign swiftly posted Trump's response on social media platform X, contending that Trump had said he would restrict the pill's use.

Trump, in his social media response, said Democrats were lying about his stance.

Trump was not asked about limits on the abortion drug mifepristone, which is used as part of a two-drug regimen to end pregnancies and not as a contraceptive.

Trump has promised for weeks to release a policy about mifepristone with regard to its use in states that restrict surgical abortions. Medication abortion has become the most common method of ending pregnancies, now accounting for more than 60% of US abortions.


Rishi Sunak Calls UK National Election for July 4

]British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak delivers a speech outside Number 10 Downing Street, in London, Britain, May 22, 2024. REUTERS/Toby Melville Purchase Licensing Rights
]British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak delivers a speech outside Number 10 Downing Street, in London, Britain, May 22, 2024. REUTERS/Toby Melville Purchase Licensing Rights
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Rishi Sunak Calls UK National Election for July 4

]British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak delivers a speech outside Number 10 Downing Street, in London, Britain, May 22, 2024. REUTERS/Toby Melville Purchase Licensing Rights
]British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak delivers a speech outside Number 10 Downing Street, in London, Britain, May 22, 2024. REUTERS/Toby Melville Purchase Licensing Rights

British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak called a national election on Wednesday for July 4, saying Britons would be able to choose their future in a vote his Conservatives are widely expected to lose to the opposition Labour Party after 14 years in power.
Ending months of speculation as to when he would call a new vote, Sunak, 44, stood outside his Downing Street office in pouring rain and called the election several months earlier than expected - a risky strategy with his party far behind Labour in the opinion polls.
Almost shouting to be heard above an anthem of Labour's election victory in 1997 under former prime minister Tony Blair being played by protesters outside Downing Street's gates, Sunak listed what he said were his achievements in government, not only as prime minister but also as a former finance minister, Reuters reported.
"Now is the moment for Britain to choose its future and decide whether it wants to build on the progress we have made or risk going back to square one and no certainty," he said.
"Over the next few weeks, I will fight for every vote, I will earn your trust and I will prove to you that only a Conservative government led by me will not put our hard earned economic stability at risk."
He accused Labor leader Keir Starmer, conversely, of always taking the "easy way out" and of having no plan. "As a result, the future can only be uncertain with them," he said.
Starmer, who has pulled Labor to the political center ground after it had veered leftwards, responded with a statement that focused on one word: "change".

"On July 4 you (voters) have the choice and together we can stop the chaos, we can turn the page, we can start to rebuild Britain and change our country," he said, in front of two Union Jack flags.


Russia Begins Nuclear Drills in an Apparent Warning to West over Ukraine

In this photo released by Russian Defense Ministry Press Service on Tuesday, May 21, 2024, Russian troops load an Iskander missile as part of drills to train the military for using tactical nuclear weapons at an undisclosed location in Russia. (Russian Defense Ministry Press Service via AP)
In this photo released by Russian Defense Ministry Press Service on Tuesday, May 21, 2024, Russian troops load an Iskander missile as part of drills to train the military for using tactical nuclear weapons at an undisclosed location in Russia. (Russian Defense Ministry Press Service via AP)
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Russia Begins Nuclear Drills in an Apparent Warning to West over Ukraine

In this photo released by Russian Defense Ministry Press Service on Tuesday, May 21, 2024, Russian troops load an Iskander missile as part of drills to train the military for using tactical nuclear weapons at an undisclosed location in Russia. (Russian Defense Ministry Press Service via AP)
In this photo released by Russian Defense Ministry Press Service on Tuesday, May 21, 2024, Russian troops load an Iskander missile as part of drills to train the military for using tactical nuclear weapons at an undisclosed location in Russia. (Russian Defense Ministry Press Service via AP)

Russia’s military has begun drills involving tactical nuclear weapons that were announced by Russian authorities earlier this month in an apparent warning to senior Western officials who had spoken about the possibility of deeper involvement in the war in Ukraine.

It was the first time Russia has publicly announced drills involving tactical nuclear weapons, although its strategic nuclear forces regularly hold exercises.

According to a statement by the Defense Ministry released Tuesday, the first stage of the new drills envisioned “practical training in the preparation and use of non-strategic nuclear weapons,” including nuclear-capable Kinzhal and Iskander missiles.

The maneuvers are taking place in the Southern Military District, which consists of Russian regions in the south, including on the border with Ukraine; Crimea, illegally annexed from Ukraine in 2014; and four Ukrainian regions that Russia illegally annexed in 2022 and partially occupies.

The drills were announced on May 6, with the Defense Ministry saying in a statement that they would come in response to “provocative statements and threats of certain Western officials regarding the Russian Federation.”

Tactical nuclear weapons include air bombs, warheads for short-range missiles and artillery munitions and are meant for use on a battlefield. They are less powerful than the strategic weapons — massive warheads that arm intercontinental ballistic missiles and are intended to obliterate entire cities.

The announcement came after French President Emmanuel Macron reiterated that he doesn’t exclude sending troops to Ukraine, and UK Foreign Secretary David Cameron said Kyiv’s forces will be able to use British long-range weapons to strike targets inside Russia. The Kremlin branded those comments as dangerous, heightening tension between Russia and NATO.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said on May 6 that Macron’s statement and other remarks by British and US officials had prompted the nuclear drills, calling the remarks “a new round of escalation.”


Death of Iran’s President Has Delayed Talks with IAEA, Grossi Says

 International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Director General Rafael Grossi meets with Finnish Climate and Environment Minister Kai Mykkanen (not pictured) during the Nordic Nuclear Forum, in Helsinki, Finland May 22, 2024. (Reuters)
International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Director General Rafael Grossi meets with Finnish Climate and Environment Minister Kai Mykkanen (not pictured) during the Nordic Nuclear Forum, in Helsinki, Finland May 22, 2024. (Reuters)
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Death of Iran’s President Has Delayed Talks with IAEA, Grossi Says

 International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Director General Rafael Grossi meets with Finnish Climate and Environment Minister Kai Mykkanen (not pictured) during the Nordic Nuclear Forum, in Helsinki, Finland May 22, 2024. (Reuters)
International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Director General Rafael Grossi meets with Finnish Climate and Environment Minister Kai Mykkanen (not pictured) during the Nordic Nuclear Forum, in Helsinki, Finland May 22, 2024. (Reuters)

The deaths of Iran's president and foreign minister in a helicopter crash have caused a pause in the UN nuclear watchdog's talks with Tehran over improving cooperation with the agency, the watchdog's chief Rafael Grossi told Reuters on Wednesday.

"They are in a mourning period which I need to respect," International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) chief Grossi said in Helsinki, where he spoke at a nuclear conference.

"But once this is over, we are going to be engaging again," he said, describing it as a "temporary interruption that I hope will be over in a matter of days".

Grossi said the IAEA was planning to continue technical discussions with Iran but they had not yet taken place due to last weekend's helicopter crash that killed President Ebrahim Raisi and Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian.

The IAEA faces a range of challenges in Iran, from Tehran's recent barring of many of the most experienced uranium-enrichment experts on its inspection team to Iran's continued failure to explain uranium traces found at undeclared sites despite a years-long IAEA investigation.

The IAEA has been trying to expand its oversight of Iran's atomic activities while the country's uranium-enrichment program continues to advance. Iran is enriching uranium to up to 60% purity, close to the 90% of weapons-grade, which no other country has done without developing nuclear weapons.

Tehran says its aims are entirely peaceful.

Iran currently has about 140 kg of uranium enriched to up to 60%, Grossi said. According to an IAEA definition, that is theoretically enough, if enriched further, for three nuclear bombs. The IAEA's last quarterly report in February said Iran had 121.5 kg, enough for two bombs.

Iran is still producing about nine kg a month of uranium enriched to up to 60%, Grossi said. It is also enriching to lower levels at which it has enough material for potentially more bombs.

Grossi, who two weeks ago said he wanted to start to see concrete results on improved cooperation from Iran soon, repeated that hope but said a more wide-ranging deal would require "a bit more time".

For now, his team had not made progress on the main issues, he said.

"It is high time there is some concrete issuance and if not resolution, some clarification of what this is," Grossi said of the uranium traces at undeclared sites.

"And I would say, confidence in many parts of the world (in Iran on the nuclear issue) is growing thinner.


France Says Conditions Not Right to Recognize Palestinian State

Oded Balilty / File photo by The AP
Oded Balilty / File photo by The AP
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France Says Conditions Not Right to Recognize Palestinian State

Oded Balilty / File photo by The AP
Oded Balilty / File photo by The AP

France said on Wednesday conditions were not right to officially recognize a Palestinian state and that such a decision must be more than just symbolic or political posturing.

Remarks by Foreign Minister Stephane Sejourne distanced France from Ireland, Spain and Norway, which said on Wednesday they would recognize a Palestinian state on May 28, hoping to accelerate efforts to secure a ceasefire in the Gaza war.

"France does not consider that the conditions have yet been met for this decision to have a real impact on this process," Sejourne said after talks in Paris with Israeli Foreign Minister Israel Katz.

Paris has previously said recognizing a Palestinian state is not taboo, but should be part of a broader effort to achieve a two-state solution between Palestinians and Israelis.

Despite lobbying by several European countries and some Arab states to recognize a Palestinian state, France has said that doing so would do little to change the situation on the ground without genuine negotiations, Reuters reported.

"This is not just a symbolic issue or a question of political positioning, but a diplomatic tool in the service of the solution of two states living side by side in peace and security", Sejourne said.

French diplomats say symbolic recognition will be of no use, especially without real momentum towards a political process supported by the United States, Israel's main ally.

France has been working on a draft UN Security Council resolution that it hopes to table over the summer.

It wants to bring the parameters for talks on a two-state solution back to the Security Council.

The US believes a Palestinian state should be achieved through negotiations and not unilateral recognition, and has the power of veto at the United Nations.


North Korea Displays Leader’s Portrait Beside Predecessors for First Time 

This picture taken on May 21, 2024 and released from North Korea's official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) via KNS on May 22, 2024 shows North Korean leader Kim Jong Un (C) attending a ribbon cutting ceremony at the newly completed Workers' Party of Korea Central Cadres Training School in Pyongyang. (KCNA VIA KNS / AFP)
This picture taken on May 21, 2024 and released from North Korea's official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) via KNS on May 22, 2024 shows North Korean leader Kim Jong Un (C) attending a ribbon cutting ceremony at the newly completed Workers' Party of Korea Central Cadres Training School in Pyongyang. (KCNA VIA KNS / AFP)
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North Korea Displays Leader’s Portrait Beside Predecessors for First Time 

This picture taken on May 21, 2024 and released from North Korea's official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) via KNS on May 22, 2024 shows North Korean leader Kim Jong Un (C) attending a ribbon cutting ceremony at the newly completed Workers' Party of Korea Central Cadres Training School in Pyongyang. (KCNA VIA KNS / AFP)
This picture taken on May 21, 2024 and released from North Korea's official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) via KNS on May 22, 2024 shows North Korean leader Kim Jong Un (C) attending a ribbon cutting ceremony at the newly completed Workers' Party of Korea Central Cadres Training School in Pyongyang. (KCNA VIA KNS / AFP)

North Korean media have published photographs showing leader Kim Jong Un's portrait hanging prominently next to those of his father and grandfather, in an apparent push to solidify his status as a leader equal to his forebears.

The photographs appeared to be the first time state media was publishing his portrait hanging beside those of state founder Kim Il Sung and his late father Kim Jong Il, who ruled the nation until his sudden death in 2011.

The photographs, taken at the opening of a new school training cadres for the ruling Workers' Party, showed giant portraits of the three generations displayed on the facade of the imposing structure.

In other photographs, Kim was shown speaking to aides, including the cabinet premier, in classrooms with the portraits of the trio hanging above the blackboard at the front.

Kim told the opening ceremony the location of the school was chosen as it was close to the palace where Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il lie in state, "so that the great leaders can hear every word of even whispering students," the KCNA news agency said.

State media did not comment on the intent behind the display of the portraits or say if it had become the standard across the country for all public venues and classrooms.

The Kim family dynasty that has ruled North Korea since its founding after World War Two has sought to strengthen its grip on power by building cults of personality around itself.

Another recent move that appeared aimed at burnishing the image of Kim Jong Un was the release of an upbeat song praising him as a "friendly father" and a "great leader" in a music video of North Koreans from all walks of life belting out the lyrics.

There has also been speculation that state media's discontinuation of the term "Day of the Sun" to describe a holiday for the birth anniversary of Kim Il Sung was to avoid drawing attention away from the current leader.


Attacks on Health Care in War Zones Surge 25% Last Year, NGOs Say 

 Palestinians inspect damages at Al Shifa Hospital after Israeli forces withdrew from the hospital and the area around it following a two-week operation, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and Hamas, in Gaza City April 1, 2024. (Reuters)
Palestinians inspect damages at Al Shifa Hospital after Israeli forces withdrew from the hospital and the area around it following a two-week operation, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and Hamas, in Gaza City April 1, 2024. (Reuters)
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Attacks on Health Care in War Zones Surge 25% Last Year, NGOs Say 

 Palestinians inspect damages at Al Shifa Hospital after Israeli forces withdrew from the hospital and the area around it following a two-week operation, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and Hamas, in Gaza City April 1, 2024. (Reuters)
Palestinians inspect damages at Al Shifa Hospital after Israeli forces withdrew from the hospital and the area around it following a two-week operation, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and Hamas, in Gaza City April 1, 2024. (Reuters)

Attacks on medics and health facilities in war zones jumped in 2023 to the highest level since records began 11 years ago, a group of non-governmental organizations said on Wednesday, with nearly half attributed to state forces.

The Safeguarding Health in Conflict Coalition, composed of 40 groups including medical charities, reported 2,562 incidents of violence or obstructions including arrests, killings and kidnappings of doctors and strikes across hospitals in 30 conflicts including Gaza, Ukraine and Sudan.

That is up by about a quarter compared with 2022.

Unlike the World Health Organization which also documents attacks on healthcare, the group apportions responsibility and said governments were to blame for nearly half of the attacks.

Len Rubenstein, chair of the coalition and a Johns Hopkins University professor, called for "far more assertive action to end the scourge of violence against health care," asking governments to cease arms transfers to perpetrators and press prosecutors to hold them accountable.

The group uses open source data and partner contributions and cross checks to ensure no double counting.

The coalition attributed 489 incidents in Gaza last year to Israeli forces, including medic deaths or injuries and strikes or raids on hospitals. No responsibility had been established in seven other cases, including the deaths of six Israeli military medics killed in fighting in separate incidents between October and December, and the bombing of the Al-Ahli Hospital on Oct. 17, 2023, it said.

Israel, whose military offensive in Gaza began after the deadly Hamas cross-border attacks of Oct. 7, says hospitals in the Palestinian enclave are used by Hamas militants as bases.