North Korea fired shots across its border with South Korea — just hours after Kim Jong Un made his first public appearance since rumors of his death., Business Insider – Business Insider Singapore

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North and South Korean forces briefly exchanged fire across the warring nations’ troubled border Sunday, just hours after Kim Jong Un made his appearance in public for several weeks after rumors of his possible death.

South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said in a Sunday statement that at 7.41 a.m. local time that multiple shots were fired from the North Korean side of the border towards a guard post in the south.

The incident took place in the demilitarized zone between the two countries, near the city of Cheorwon, which is on the South Korean side of the border.

South Korean military personnel said they responded to the shots by returning “two rounds of gunfire and a warning announcement according to our manual,” according to the BBC.

Officials went on to say that they did not believe that the shots were an official provocation as they came from farmland and it was a foggy morning.

“In absence of vision [for the target] and in the fog, would there be an accurate provocation?” – the official said, according to Reuters.

The approximate location of where the gunfire incident happened.

The incident on the fiercely defended border came the morning after North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un appeared to make a first outing in public in several weeks, following widely circulated rumors that he was gravely ill or possibly even dead.

North Korean state media released images of the country’s leader, Kim Jong Un, making his first public appearance after weeks of speculation about his health and whereabouts.

Kim attended the completion ceremony of a fertilizer plant north of the capital, Pyongyang on Saturday, marking his first public appearance since April 11, photos published by official state media outlets appeared to show.

Business Insider has not confirmed the authenticity of the images, or whether they were actually taken on Saturday.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un attends the completion of a fertilizer plant, together with his younger sister Kim Yo Jong, in a region north of the capital, Pyongyang, in this image released by North Korea's Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) on May 2, 2020.

As well as rumors of his death, it has also been speculated that Kim’s absence was down to him having heart surgery. Footage of Kim during his outing in Pyongyang Saturday appeared to show a black circular mark on his wrist, which some media outlets speculated is a sign he has had surgery.

Senior officials in South Korea said that they do not believe this is the case.

“There were speculative reports that Chairman Kim underwent a surgery citing some difference to his walk,” a senior official said, according to Reuters.

“We have reasons to believe that there was no surgery, but cannot disclose such details.”

A screenshot from a Mail Online video pointing to the supposed needle mark on Kim's wrist.

As Kim appeared to reemerge after his period of absence from public life – which some have linked to possible fears about the North Korean leader contracting coronavirus – Britain’s Daily Mirror reported that there are fears he could embark on a campaign of executions and military brinkmanship as a means of reasserting his strongman image.

The newspaper reported that Kim is “likely to order a ‘wave of public executions’ and fresh nuclear threats against the West to re-establish credibility after being off grid for weeks.”

The Mirror cited an unnamed western security source as saying: “I believe we could expect a violent taking out of any perceived threat amongst Kim’s inner-circle.”

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Russian Embassy in UK perplexed by statements on ‘persecution of Christians’ in Russia – Society & Culture – TASS

LONDON, February 15. /TASS/. The Russian Embassy in the UK has expressed bewilderment about remarks by Parliamentary Under Secretary of State at the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office Heather Wheeler who claimed that Christians’ rights were not respected in Russia.

Wheeler made such a statement in the British parliament on February 6, mentioning Russia as part of a debate on the persecution of Christians around the world. She provided neither details nor evidence to substantiate her claims.

“This statement raises eyebrows at the very least. Orthodox Christians make up the vast majority of Russian believers. Hundreds of new churches are being built, and the Russian Orthodox Church plays an active role in discussing socially significant issues. All conditions have been created for freely practicing the religion by followers of other Christian churches,” the embassy’s press officer said in a statement.

“Patriarch Kirill’s meetings with head of the Catholic Church Pope Francis and Queen Elizabeth II, the head of the Church of England, in 2016 were the evidence of the recognition of the revival of Christian spiritual values and the substantial beneficial role of the Russian Orthodox Church in Russia and throughout the world. We know nothing about the issue of discrimination against Christians in Russia being raised at these meetings. Reports by personal envoys of the current OSCE chairperson-in-office on combating racism, xenophobia and discrimination make no mention of that either,” the diplomat stressed, adding that “the same is true of the problem of religious and racial intolerance towards representatives of other religions.”

“At the same time, we have to state that the problems of religious intolerance, including anti-Semitism and Islamophobia, are well known in Britain itself,” he pointed out.

“While declaring their determination to protect the rights of Christians, our British partners are, in actual fact, politicizing the issue, as evidenced by the fact that they refer to China, North Korea and Iran as the main [rights] abusers. We urge London to start cooperation to solve real problems facing Christians, primarily in the Middle East. A lot of work lies ahead, and its results depend on coordinated efforts by many countries,” he said.

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The General’s Death Upsets Iran’s Plan

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Qassem Soleimani, who was Iran’s most hyped general, loved publishing “selfies” showing himself close to battlegrounds in the Middle East. He was never present anywhere near a battle but was always to come after the dust had settled, to take “selfies” and claim the credit. (Photo by Mehdi Ghasemi/ISNA/AFP via Getty Images)

While analysts and policymakers are busy speculating on ways that Tehran’s ruling mullahs might avenge the killing of their most hyped general, the real question that needs considering may be elsewhere.

The question is: what effect Soleimani’s death might have on the power struggle that, though currently put on hold, is certain to resume with greater vigor in Tehran.

Tehran’s propaganda tries to sell Soleimani as a kind of superman who, almost single-handedly, brought Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Gaza and parts of Afghanistan and Yemen under Iranian control while driving Americans out of the Middle East and crushing ISIS’s so-called Caliphate which tried to rival the Islamic Republic in Tehran. Soleimani himself did a lot to promote that image and, doing that, received much help from Western, especially American, and Israeli media that bought the bundle of goods from Tehran.

Facts, however, offer a different portrait of the late general. Soleimani joined the Islamic revolution in 1980, aged 27, at a time that the mullahs were busy putting together a praetorian guard to protect their new regime. A few months later, the ragtag army that Soleimani had joined was sent to help the remnants of a heavily purged national army fight an invading Iraqi force. With over 8,000 officers and NCOs of the national army purged by Khomeini, the new regime offered a fast track to people like Soleimani who had joined the military with no proper training and often little or no formal education. Thus, just three years after he had joined the military, young Soleimani found himself in command of a division of raw recruits. Under his command, Iranian forces suffered three of their biggest defeats in operations Al-Fajr 8, and Karbala I and Karbala II. Mohsen Reza’i, then chief of the Revolutionary Guard, describes the three battles as “a string of catastrophes” for Iranian forces.

However, Soleimani, who was to demonstrate his genius for networking and self-promotion, scored one lasting victory when he attached himself to Ali Khamenei, the mullah who was to become the Islamic Republic’s “Supreme Guide”.

Khamenei started as Deputy Defense Minister and rose to become President of the Islamic Republic. Soleimani, mocked as “the mullah’s bag-carrier”, was always at his side. In the 1990s, as Khamenei slowly built himself as the sole arbiter of Iran’s fate, Soleimani seized the opportunity to secure a fiefdom for himself.

That came in the shape of the project to “export” the Iranian Revolution to other Muslim countries. Initially, exporting the revolution, mentioned in the regime’s constitution as a sacred duty, had been regarded as a matter of propaganda and organizing sympathizers in Arab countries through outfits named Hezbollah. The task was handled by a special office in the Foreign Ministry headed by Ayatollah Hadi Khosroshahian. Partly thanks to lobbying by Soleimani, the task was taken away from the Foreign Ministry and handed over to the Revolutionary Guard. But even then Soleimani didn’t get the top job, which went to then Col. Ismail Qaani, the man who has now succeeded Soleimani as Commander of the Quds Force. Soleimani’s next move was to dislodge Qaani and get the top job himself. (Qaani was named as deputy). Even that configuration would not satisfy Soleimani, who had bigger ambitions. As long as he was part of the IRGC’s chain of command, he had to obey rules set by superiors whom he despised.

Thanks to Khamenei’s support, he succeeded in securing his independent fiefdom in the shape of the Quds Force which, though formally part of the IRGC, has its own separate budget and chain of command and is answerable to no one but Khamenei.

Next, Soleimani seized control of Tehran’s foreign policy in Arab countries, Afghanistan, North Korea, and South America and, in some sensitive areas, even Russia. The Islamic Republic’s presidents and foreign ministers have never had tête-à-tête talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin, as Soleimani had.

It became a matter of routine for Soleimani to appoint Iran’s ambassadors to Baghdad, Damascus, Beirut, Doha and several other Arab capitals.

A dramatic illustration of Soleimani’s “independence” came when he shipped Syrian despot Bashar al-Assad to Tehran in a special airplane without even telling the Iranian president, let alone the foreign minister, who were also excluded from the Syrian’s audience with Khamenei.

A control freak, Soleimani insisted on deciding even the smallest details himself. In his one, and now final, interview, last November, the general talks of how Lebanese Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah had to clear every move with him.

Inside Iran, Soleimani built a state within the state. According to the Islamic Customs Office, the Quds Force operates 25 jetties in five of Iran’s biggest ports for its “imports and exports” with no intervention by the relevant authorities. A levy on imports of foreign cars is reserved for a special fund, controlled by the Quds Force, to cover expenditures in Iraq, Syria and Lebanon and help pro-Iran Palestinian groups.

Soleimani had his own network of lobbyists in many Arab countries and some Western democracies. Hundreds of Iranian and Arab militants have enrolled in Western universities with scholarships from the Quds Force.

The Quds Force has registered vast tracts of public land in its name, claiming the need for future housing for its personnel. It also runs two dozen companies and banks, several shipping lines and an airline.

Soleimani, who loved making and publishing “selfies” showing himself close to battlegrounds in the Middle East, was never present anywhere near a battle but was always to come after the dust had settled, to take “selfies” and claim the credit.

A master of self-promotion, Soleimani received the rank of major-general without having risen through the hierarchy of the top brass like the other 12 men on the list. (After death, he has been promoted to Lt. General).

Some analysts in Tehran believe that Khamenei was planning to promote Soleimani further by making him President of the Islamic Republic in 2021. An image-building campaign started last year, as Soleimani was marketed as “the Sufi commander”, a label given to Safavid kings in the 16th century.

A committee of exiled Iranians in Florida also started campaigning to draft Soleimani as president.

If that was Khamenei’s game plan, there is no doubt that Soleimani’s demise will lead to more uncertainty regarding the future course of Iranian politics.

Amir Taheri was the executive editor-in-chief of the daily Kayhan in Iran from 1972 to 1979. He has worked at or written for innumerable publications, published eleven books, and has been a columnist for Asharq Al-Awsat since 1987. He is the Chairman of Gatestone Europe.

This article was originally published by Asharq al-Awsat and is reprinted by kind permission of the author.

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‘You Should Ask Mr. Soleimani’: Pompeo Drops Mic When Asked if Impeachment Makes Trump Vulnerable (Video) ⋆ Conservative Firing Line

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RUSH TRANSCRIPT:

It was a quick hit except they stayed for almost ten years. Let someone else fight over this long bloodstained sand.

>> Chris: But just this week, the U.S. Deployed 100 Marines to the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad, plus 752 the region and now another 3500. If the president pulling us out of endless wars in the Middle East or with his action this week did he take a big step back in?

>> Secretary Pompeo: Endless wars are the direct result of weakness and President Trump will never let that happen. We are going to get it right, we’re going to get the force posture right, we are going to get our facilities as hardened as we can possibly get them to defend against what Iran may potentially do, but make no mistake, America’s mission is to have our footprint in the Middle East reduced while still keeping America safe. Safe from rogue regimes like the Islamic Republic of Iran and from terrorist activity broadly throughout the region. Someone’s was it fair to say that while the big strategy is to pull the U.S. Out of endless wars, at least in the short term there could be more of a commitment?

>> Secretary Pompeo: The Obama Administration created an enormous risk to the American people in Iran. This administration is working to reduce that risk.

>> Chris: Some analysts suggest that the impeachment of President Trump has emboldened enemies like Iran and North Korea to think that they can confront him. Do you think that is misguided as it may be, that some of our enemies think that this president is more vulnerable because of the impeachment effort?

>> Secretary Pompeo: You should ask Mr. Soleimani.

>> Chris: I understand that, but he was going ahead before you killed him and the question is do you think that impeachment is emboldening our enemies?

>> Secretary Pompeo: I don’t. I think that our adversaries understand President Trump and our administration will do the right thing to protect the American people everyplace that we find risk.

>> Chris: Secretary Pompeo, thank you. Thanks for coming in on a very busy weekend.

>> Secretary Pompeo: Thank you.

>> Chris: When we come back, Democrats raised questions about the wisdom and legality of the president’s decision to take out Soleimani. We will talk with a top You have a brother in the second battalion? Yes sir. They’re walking into a trap. Your orders are to deliver a message calling off tomorrow’s attack. If you fail, we will lose sixteen hundred men. Your brother among them.

Cross-posted with Mental Recession

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