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NightWatch 20100425


For the Night of 25 April 2010

North Korea: North Korea warned South Korea and the United States on 24 April that it will employ "all means, including the nuclear deterrent" if they intrude into the North's territory, The Associated Press reported, citing the official Korean Central News Agency. The Chief of the General Staff of the Korean People's Army said North Korea's armed forces are ready to counter any provocation by aggressors

China-North Korea: Xinhua reported that the first Chinese tourist train to neighboring Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK) kicked off a four-day tour Saturday with more than 400 passengers aboard.

The train entered the DPRK from Dandong, a land port in northeast China's Liaoning province.
Tourists are mainly from provinces of Zhejiang, Heilongjiang and Guangdong. Some foreigners living in China also joined the tour.

The DPRK became a destination for Chinese group tours on 12 April, which is expected to attract tens of thousands of tourists to visit. A group of Finnish students who study in the southern Chinese city of Guangzhou said the trip would give them an opportunity to better understand the DPRK.

Comment: The two reports above illustrate the continuing anomalies in North Korean policy. The bellicose statement containing the nuclear threat relates to the nuclear memo last week. Since 2006 North Korea has become increasingly explicit about its nuclear weapons program as it has sought to obtain international recognition of its claim to be a nuclear armed state.

Last week's nuclear memo was the North's most forthright and detailed claim to equality as a nuclear armed state. Today's threat represents the kind of action a nuclear armed state might take in deterring a potential existential threat. It is not a new statement, only an updated context.

It is interesting to compare North Korean behavior with that of Iran and Israel. The latter remain ambiguous about nuclear programs and status, whereas the North has chosen to become more explicit to help achieve its goals.

The Chinese tourist train data alter the assessment that the North is closing up. Two points are significant. The opening to South Korea appears closed for now. Second, China or a Chinese delegation appears associated with almost all recent North Korean actions against South Korea, including the sinking of the patrol ship Cheonan and the confiscation of South Korean tourist properties.

No country has questioned China about the association or the unusual tilt towards China and away from South Korea. As to the tourist facilities, it would seem crass that North Korea might sell franchises to Chinese tourism firms or that any respectable Chinese firms would bid for them. Still, that seems to be the larger implication in the Xinhua report.

Thailand: On 25 April, authorities announced their intention to remove the Red Shirt protestors from their site in the heart of Bangkok's retail district. "There will be a retaking of Ratchaprasong but the process, the measures, how and when it will be done we cannot disclose because it depends on several things," Prime Minister Abhisit said. "We are not going to say that we will take it tomorrow at 7:00 am."

The Prime Minister made the announcement after he rejected Red Shirt opposition terms for a political settlement to end the protests. The rejection followed deliberations on Saturday and Sunday. The Prime Ministers sent a message to all the provincial governors of Thailand directing them to present the government's explanation of its forthcoming action.

Army chief General Anupong appeared with the premier in gesture of solidarity. On Friday, Anupong indicated he was extremely reluctant to launch a crackdown. "We are an army for the nation, for the monarchy and for the people. We will do our job without taking sides. We will follow government policy," Anupong said.

"As for a rift in the army, it is possible there will be rifts in a big organization, but the number of people who have different ideas are not many and this will not cause problems," he said.

In anticipation of a crackdown, the Red Shirts exchanged their red shirts for normal street clothes. They also tried to stop a train carrying police reinforcements from the countryside to Bangkok, according to The Nation.

Iran: For the record. Fox News online reported on Saturday, a Shiite preacher in Tehran called on all believers to give alms and pray to Allah to save Iran from earthquakes. He blamed earthquakes on promiscuous women who lure men astray. One hour after the sermon, four earthquakes occurred in different parts of Iran, according to Fox News.

Saudi Arabia: The head of Saudi Arabia's religious police on Sunday replaced a senior officer who outraged hardliners with calls to ease rules for prayer in mosques and to allow men and women to mix freely.

Sheikh Ahmed alGhamdi was replaced as general manager of the Makkah (Mecca) branch of the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice in an announcement from the organization's president, Sheikh Abdulaziz alHumain. The dismissal is three days after Ghamdi was reportedly dressed down by the country's highest cleric for saying that Muslims are not necessarily required to pray inside a mosque with a group of other Muslims in daily prayers.

Grand Mufti Sheikh Abdul Aziz alSheikh told Ghamdi he was getting involved in matters of Islamic law that were outside his authority, the AlMadinah newspaper reported on Friday. Sheikh, in his Friday sermon, said anyone suggesting that congregation prayer is not necessary is "leading people to hell," according to Agence France-Presse.

Comment: The surprise is not that al Ghamdi was fired, but that he dared speak out in public at all. Are attitudes changing in the Kingdom?

End of NightWatch for 25 April.

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