High activity spotted at North Korea nuclear complex
Satellite images show a high level of activity at North Korea’s main nuclear site, a U.S. think tank reported on Saturday after the North Korean leader ordered an increase in production of bomb fuel to expand the country’s nuclear arsenal.
The Washington-based 38 North North Korea monitoring project said the activity it had spotted, based on images from March 3 and 17, could indicate that an Experimental Light Water Reactor (ELWR) at the Yongbyon site was nearing completion and transition to operational status, Reuters reported.
The report said the images showed that a 5 megawatt reactor at Yongbyon continued to operate and that construction had started on a support building around the ELWR. Further, water discharges had been detected from that reactor’s cooling system. New construction had also started around Yongbyon’s uranium enrichment plant, likely to expand its capabilities.
“These developments seem to reflect Kim Jong Un’s recent directive to increase the country’s fissile material production to expand its nuclear weapons arsenal,” the report added, referring to the North Korean leader.
On Tuesday, North Korea unveiled new, smaller nuclear warheads and vowed to produce more weapons-grade nuclear material to expand its arsenal, while denouncing stepped up military exercises by South Korea and the United States.
Its state media said Kim had ordered the production of weapons-grade materials in a “far-sighted way” to boost the country’s nuclear arsenal “exponentially.”
It is unclear whether North Korea has fully developed miniaturized nuclear warheads needed to fit on smaller weapons it has displayed and analysts say perfecting such warheads would most likely be a key goal if it resumes nuclear testing for the first time since 2017.
South Korea and the United States have warned since early 2022 that North Korea may resume nuclear testing at any time.
In a report last year, the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) estimated North Korea had assembled up to 20 nuclear warheads, and probably possessed sufficient fissile material for approximately 45–55 nuclear devices.
Moscow targeted by drone attack, no casualties
Moscow was targeted by a drone attack on Tuesday morning causing “minor” damage to buildings, the city’s mayor said.
“This morning, at dawn, a drone attack caused minor damage to several buildings. All the city’s emergency services are on the scene … No one has been seriously injured so far,” Moscow’s mayor Sergei Sobyanin said.
Russia’s defense ministry blamed Ukraine for a “terrorist attack,” saying it had intercepted all of the eight drones aimed at Moscow.
Moscow, located more than 1,000 kilometers from Ukraine, has rarely been targeted by drone attacks since the start of the conflict in Ukraine, even though such attacks have become more common elsewhere in Russia, AFP reported.
Images posted on social media showed traces of smoke in the sky. Others showed a broken window.
The attack follows a similar assault on Ukraine’s capital of Kyiv, carried out by Russian drones overnight and leaving at least one person dead, according to the city’s mayor Vitali Klitschko.
Russian forces fired missiles at Kyiv on Monday, sending panicked residents running for shelter in an unusual daytime attack on the Ukrainian capital following overnight strikes.
In early May, two drones were shot down over the Kremlin in an attack blamed on Ukraine.
Ukraine on Tuesday said it had downed 29 out of 31 drones, mainly over Kyiv and the Kyiv region, in the latest Russian barrage, the third in 24 hours.
Philippines, US, Japan to hold first-ever joint coast guard exercise
The coast guard of the United States, Japan and the Philippines will hold a trilateral maritime exercise in the South China Sea this week, the first such maneuvers between them as a time of growing concern about China’s moves in the region.
The June 1 to 7 exercise in waters off Bataan province was an initiative of the United States and Japan, while Australia would join as an observer, said Philippine coast guard spokesman Armand Balilo on Monday.
Four Philippine vessels and one each from the United States and Japan will participate in exercises designed to improve search and rescue collaboration and law enforcement, Balilo said.
The Philippines was approached by Japan and the United States about holding joint maritime exercises in February, the same month when Manila accused China of aggressive activities in the South China Sea, vast stretches of which Beijing claims as its territory, Reuters reported.
“This is a usual routine activity among coast guard agencies,” Balilo told a press conference.
“There is nothing wrong with holding exercises with your counterparts.”
Japan, Australia and the United States have frequently condemned China’s militarisation in the South China Sea and have sought to engage closer with U.S. ally the Philippines since Ferdinand Marcos Jr took over as president last year from pro-China predecessor Rodrigo Duterte.
Philippine ties with the United States have gained ground under Marcos, who has been increasingly vocal about China’s conduct, including over its alleged use of a “military-grade laser” against a vessel supporting a navy food re-supply mission.
It has also complained about large numbers of suspected militia lingering near Philippine-held features in the disputed Spratly islands. China maintains the actions of its coast guard are legal and in its waters.
Balilo said the upcoming maritime exercise will include counter-piracy simulations, and possibly an interception exercise involving a vessel carrying weapons of mass destruction.
Turkey’s Erdogan prevails in election test of his 20-year rule
President Tayyip Erdogan extended his two decades in power in elections on Sunday, winning a mandate to pursue increasingly authoritarian policies which have polarised Turkey and strengthened its position as a regional military power, Reuters reported.
His challenger, Kemal Kilicdaroglu, called it “the most unfair election in years” but did not dispute the outcome.
Official results showed Kilicdaroglu won 47.9% of the votes to Erdogan’s 52.1%, pointing to a deeply divided nation.
The election had been seen as one of the most consequential yet for Turkey, with the opposition believing it had a strong chance of unseating Erdogan and reversing his policies after his popularity was hit by a cost-of-living crisis, read the report.
Instead, victory reinforced his image of invincibility, after he had already redrawn domestic, economic, security and foreign policy in the NATO member country of 85 million people.
The prospect of five more years of his rule was a major blow to opponents who accused him of undermining democracy as he amassed ever more power – a charge he denies.
In a victory speech in Ankara, Erdogan pledged to leave all disputes behind and unite behind national values and dreams but then switched gears, lashing out at the opposition and accusing Kilicdaroglu of siding with terrorists without providing evidence, Reuters reported.
He said releasing former pro-Kurdish party leader Selahattin Demirtas, whom he branded a “terrorist,” would not be possible under his governance.
Erdogan said inflation was Turkey’s most urgent issue.
Kilicdaroglu’s defeat will likely be mourned by Turkey’s NATO allies which have been alarmed by Erdogan’s ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin, who congratulated his “dear friend” on his victory, read the report.
U.S. President Joe Biden wrote on Twitter: “I look forward to continuing to work together as NATO Allies on bilateral issues and shared global challenges.”
U.S. relations with Turkey have been impeded by Erdogan’s objection to Sweden joining NATO as well as Ankara’s close relationship with Moscow and differences over Syria.
Addressing jubilant supporters earlier from atop a bus in Istanbul, Erdogan, 69, said “the only winner today is Turkey”. “I thank every single one of our people who once again gave us the responsibility to govern the country five more years,” he said.
Erdogan’s victory extends his tenure as the longest-serving leader since Mustafa Kemal Ataturk established modern Turkey from the ruins of the Ottoman Empire a century ago – a politically potent anniversary to be marked in October with Erdogan in charge.
Erdogan, head of the Islamist-rooted AK Party, appealed to voters with nationalist and conservative rhetoric during a divisive campaign that deflected attention from deep economic troubles.
In his victory speech, he attacked the opposition again, calling them pro-LGBT.
Kilicdaroglu, who had promised to set the country on a more democratic and collaborative path, said the vote showed people’s will to change an authoritarian government. “All the means of the state were laid at the feet of one man,” he said.
Erdogan supporters, who gathered outside his Istanbul residence, chanted Allahu Akbar, or God is Greatest.
“I expect everything to become better,” said Nisa, 28, a headscarved woman wearing a headband with Erdogan’s name.
Another Erdogan supporter said Turkey would get stronger with him in office for five more years.
“There are issues, problems in every country around the world, in European countries as well … With strong leadership we will overcome Turkey’s problems as well,” said the supporter who gave his name as Mert, 39, as he celebrated with his son.
Bugra Oztug, 24, who voted for Kilicdaroglu, blamed the opposition for failing to change. “I feel sad and disappointed but I am not hopeless. I still think there are people who can see the realities and truth,” Oztug said.
Erdogan’s performance has wrong-footed opponents who thought voters would punish him over the state’s initially slow response to devastating earthquakes in February, in which more than 50,000 people died, Reuters reported.
But in the first round of voting on May 14, which included parliamentary elections, his AK Party emerged top in 10 of the 11 provinces hit by the earthquakes, helping it to secure a parliamentary majority along with its allies.
French President Emmanuel Macron offered congratulations, saying France and Turkey had “huge challenges to face together”.
The presidents of Iran, Israel, and the Saudi king were among leaders to congratulate him in the Middle East, where Erdogan has asserted Turkish influence, at times with military power. Erdogan, who was for years at odds with numerous governments in the region, has taken a more conciliatory stance in recent years.
Emre Erdogan, a political science professor at Istanbul’s Bilgi University, attributed Erdogan’s success to his supporters’ belief “in his ability to solve problems, even though he created many of them”.
Erdogan had also maintained the support of conservative voters who long felt marginalised. “This era will be characterized by a decline in political and civil liberties, polarization, and cultural fights between two political tribes,” he said.
Erdogan appeared to have prevailed despite years of economic turmoil which critics blamed on unorthodox economic policies which the opposition had pledged to reverse.
Uncertainty about what an Erdogan win would mean for economic policy pushed the lira to record lows last week, Reuters reported.
Reuters reported last week that there was disagreement within Erdogan’s government over whether to stick with what some called an unsustainable economic programme or to abandon it.
Kilicdaroglu had promised to reset governance, restore human rights, and return independence to the courts and central bank after they were sidelined over the last decade.
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