President Ahmadinejad appoints fourth woman to cabinet

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad (Photo : Getty Images)



December 20, 2010 (KATAKAMI / FRANCE 24 / AFP ) — President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad sacked the head of Iran’s National Youth Organisation on Monday and appointed a woman to the cabinet post, official media reported.

Ahmadinejad removed Mehrdad Bazrpash and named Farahnaz Torkestani as the head of the National Youth Organisation, the official IRNA news agency said.

As such, Torkestani also becomes one of Iran’s 12 vice presidents.

She is the fourth woman to join the government, which includes a woman health minister and two female vice presidents for legal affairs and science and technology.

The report did not give a reason for the dismissal, the second in a week following the dismissal last Tuesday of foreign minister Manouchehr Mottaki.

Iran’s atomic chief Ali Akbar Salehi was sworn in as new foreign minister on Saturday.

Unlike cabinet ministers, vice presidents are not subject to a parliamentary vote of confidence.

Women joined the Iranian cabinet as vice presidents first under the reformist presidency of Mohammad Khatami, from 1997 to 2005, to widespread criticism from conservative clerics.

Ahmadinejad’s first administration, from 2005 to 2009, saw numerous reshuffles and several ministers were sacked over disagreements with the president, especially over issues related to the economy.  (*)

South Korea Concludes Artillery Drill, Scrambles Jet Fighters

Dec. 20, SEOUL, South Korea -- South Korean F-15K fighter jets were in the air on standby in case of North Korean provocations as South Korea began a live-fire artillery drill near the Yellow Sea border with North Korea on Dec. 20. This is a file photo taken in December 2008. (Photo : Yonhap)



December 20, 2010 (KATAKAMI / VOA) — South Koreans are anxiously waiting to see if North Korea will make good on its threat to take military action in response to an artillery drill on Yeonpyeong island. The exercise came just hours after an emergency meeting of the United Nations Security Council failed to ease tensions, and after an American politician said North Korea is willing to accept nuclear inspections.

South Korea defied diplomatic pressure and went ahead Monday with firing artillery into the Yellow Sea for 94 minutes, escalating its confrontation with the communist North.

Defense officials stress the shelling was to the southwest, away from North Korea. But North Korea claims that area is its territory and, in the days since the drill was announced, has warned it could lead to war.

In Seoul, Foreign Ministry spokesman Kim Young-sun termed the live-fire exercise routine and legitimate.

Dec. 20, SEOUL, South Korea -- Seen here are K-9 self-propelled howitzers mobilized for South Korea's maritime artillery live-fire drill on Dec. 20 on Yeonpyeong Island bordering North Korea in the Yellow Sea. This is a file photo taken in February 2010. (Photo : Yonhap)

Kim says the artillery drill is for self-defense and part of the country’s sovereign right.

A few hours before the exercise, the United Nations Security Council failed to reach a consensus on lowering tensions on the Korean peninsula.

Diplomats say China, among other nations, would not back a statement condemning North Korea for recent aggressive behavior, including the shelling of Yeonpyeong island last month.

After the U.N. talks failed, U.S. Ambassador Susan Rice defended South Korea’s decision to go ahead with the artillery drill. She noted the two fatal attacks this year blamed on North Korea – the sinking in March of a South Korean navy ship and last month’s shelling of Yeonpyeong island.

“If the events of the last year have shown anything it is that the Republic of Korea has every need and right to ready its self defense having lost 50 citizens simply over the course of the last nine months,” said Rice.

A Chinese vice foreign minister on Monday renewed his country’s call for more talks and said no one has the right to provoke conflict on the Korean peninsula.

Dec. 20, SEOUL, South Korea -- Citizens watch breaking news at Seoul Station on the South Korean army's live-fire drill that started near the inter-Korean maritime border in the Yellow Sea on Dec. 20. (Photo : Yonhap)

Also Monday, a veteran American diplomatic troubleshooter wrapped up a trip to Pyongyang. He was quoted by the CNN news network as saying the North Koreans have agreed to allow U.N. nuclear inspectors back into the country.

Former ambassador Bill Richardson (the governor of New Mexico) was quoted as saying the North Koreans also agreed to negotiate the sale of 12,000 fresh fuel rods so they could be shipped out of the country.

For seven years, the United States, China, Russia, Japan and South Korea have tried to persuade North Korea to give up its nuclear weapons programs in return for aid and greater diplomatic recognition. Despite agreeing to do so, Pyongyang has tested nuclear weapons and recently revealed a new fuel production facility.

Members of South Korea’s political opposition unsuccessfully appealed to President Lee Myung-bak to cancel Monday’s artillery training.

Democratic Party lawmaker Chung Dong-Young is a former cabinet minister who previously negotiated with North Korean leader Kim Jong Il.

“It[‘s] irresponsible of the president if he panders to the tastes of the conservative forces,” he said. “The president should be responsible if the artillery fire from Yeonpyeong island brings another dangerous exchange of fire, which might go out of control.”

Last month, conservatives criticized the president for not responding forcefully to the North Korean attack, which killed four South Koreans.

In the early 1950’s, the two Koreas fought a three-year year. A truce has been in place since 1953, but no peace treaty has been signed.  (*)

South Korean President Lee Myung-bak says artillery drills 'natural' for national defense

President Lee Myung-bak



SEOUL, Dec. 20 (KATAKAMI / Yonhap) — President Lee Myung-bak said Monday that the South Korean military’s artillery drills from the western border island of Yeonpyeong were an appropriate move aimed at protecting the country’s territory and that no other country can take issue with them, according to Lee’s office.

“It is natural for a sovereign country to conduct a military exercise for territorial defense,” especially as it is a divided nation with military confrontation, Lee was quoted as saying. “Nobody can meddle in it.”

The president made the remarks while receiving briefings on the 90-minute live-ammunition training near the tense Yellow Sea border, said Hong Sang-pyo, senior secretary for public affairs at Lee’s office Cheong Wa Dae.

Lee also ordered the government to stay on full alert against possible provocations by the North when he visited the crisis management center at the underground bunker of Cheong Wa Dae, Hong said.

The South’s military pressed ahead with the artillery firing as scheduled despite the North’s threats of a military response and formal requests from China and Russia for the cancellation of the training plan. There was no immediate report of unusual activity by the North following the end of the drills.

Monday’s firing had political implications beyond a simple military exercise, with the North refusing to accept the Northern Limit Line (NLL), the de facto maritime border between the two Koreas.

The two sides remain technically at war since their 1950-53 conflict ended in a cease-fire, not a binding peace treaty. The navies of the two sides were engaged in skirmishes in the western waters near the NLL, drawn by the U.N. troops at the end of the war, in 1999, 2002 and 2009.

Pyongyang claims that the Yellow Sea border actually lies far south of the NLL.

Most recently, the North abruptly shelled Yeonpyeong Island last month, killing two marines and two construction workers. It claimed it was a self-defensive measure in response to the South’s naval drills in its waters at that time.

Meanwhile, the South Korean president stressed the importance of national unity against the North’s provocation.

“It is important for our people to be united,” Lee said.

“Should public opinions be split, the enemy will try to exploit it, even if our defense capability is strong and superb,” the president said as he was briefed by the home ministry on its major works next year.

His remarks were viewed as intended to head off political attacks from opposition parties. How to deal with the nuclear-armed communist neighbor is a longstanding source of ideological disputes in South Korea.

The main opposition Democratic Party had called for the South’s military to scrap its plan to stage the live-ammunition drills in the tense Yellow Sea, saying maintaining peace is a top priority.

Cheong Wa Dae confirmed a news report that Gen. Walter Sharp, commander of U.S. Forces Korea (USFK), and Washington’s ambassador to Seoul, Kathleen Stephens, visited Cheong Wa Dae during the weekend.

Their visit was to discuss the issue of the artillery training on Yeonpyeong Island, and they frequently consult with Cheong Wa Dae officials, presidential spokeswoman Kim Hee-jung said in a separate press briefing.

“The U.S. side said that it supports South Korea’s military training plan irrespective of North Korea’s response and that it will stay with us whatever happens,” Kim said. (*)

Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov reiterates concern over Korean crisis

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov



December 20, 2010 (KATAKAMI / RIA NOVOSTI) — Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Monday that tensions between the two Koreas have reached their highest point and expressed regret that the UN Security Council failed to prevent further escalation of the conflict.

South Korean military conducted 90-minite live-firing exercises on Yeonpyeong Island near the disputed border with North Korea earlier on Monday. The drills went ahead despite threats of retaliation from Pyongyang, a month after the North Korean military shelled the island, killing four people.

“The situation [on the Korean Peninsula] is very tense…That is why we requested an urgent UN Security Council meeting…And although to our regret it has not led to a statement, the discussions sent a clear signal: It is necessary to avoid any provocative actions that could destabilize the situation,” Lavrov said.

The key issue that prevented the UN from adopting a coordinated statement was the fact that the United States and China had different views on the issue. The United States refused to adopt any statement without a clear condemnation of the reclusive communist regime, whereas China was against blaming Pyongyang.

Contrary to its earlier warnings, Pyongyang said in a statement on Monday that it would not retaliate on the latest “reckless military provocation” from Seoul because South Korean shells landed this time farther south of the North’s shores.

The North does not recognize the sea border between the two countries, known as the Northern Limit Line, and claims the waters around Yeonpyeong as its territory.

MOSCOW, December 20


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