Friday, March 29, 2013

Pyongyang marchers: 'Rip the puppet traitors to death!'

Jon Chol Jin / AP
University students punch the air as they march through Kim Il Sung Square in downtown Pyongyang, North Korea, on March 29, 2013.
Jon Chol Jin / AP
Tens of thousands of North Koreans turned out for a mass rally at the main square in Pyongyang on Friday in support of their leader Kim Jong Un's call to arms.
Placards read "Let's crush the puppet traitor group" and "Let's rip the puppet traitors to death!", The Associated Press reported.
Earlier on Friday, the isolated communist state put its rocket units on standby to attack U.S. military bases in South Korea and the Pacific, Reuters reported, after two nuclear-capable stealth bombers flew from Missouri to drop inert munitions on a range in South Korea as part of a major military exercise.

A picture released by the North Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) shows Kim Jong Un convening an urgent operation meeting at 0:30 am on March 29, 2013 at an undisclosed location, in which he ordered strategic rocket forces to be on standby to strike US and South Korean targets at any time.

Military members and civilians rallied in Pyongyang on Friday as it was announced that the Korean People's Army is combat-ready to strike bases in the U.S. as well as targets in South Korea.'s Dara Brown reports.
David Guttenfelder / AP
As chief Asia photographer for the Associated Press, David Guttenfelder has had unprecedented access to communist North Korea. Here's a rare look at daily life in the secretive country.

Combat ready? Kim Jong Un inspects troops as North Korea issues new threats
Kim Jong Un gets to grips with North Korean army's latest technology

North Korea puts rockets on standby as US official warns regime is no 'paper tiger'

Baengnyeong Island, home to 5,000 South Korean civilians, sits just 10 miles from the border with North Korea. Fearing an attack from the north, the island has become a fortress with fences, bomb shelters and mine fields. NBC's Ian Williams reports.

By Courtney Kube and Ian Johnston, NBC News

North Korea put its rocket units on standby Friday to attack U.S. military bases in South Korea and the Pacific, after repeated threats one day after two American stealth bombers flew over the Korean Peninsula in a military exercise.

A U.S. official warned that the isolated communist state is “not a paper tiger” and its reaction should not be dismissed as “pure bluster.”

According to South Korea's news agency, Yonhap, North Korea announced Saturday that it had entered a state of war against South Korea. "In a special statement, the North said it will deal with every inter-Korean issue in a wartime manner," Yonhap reported. NBC News could not immediately confirm.

The two Koreas have been in a technical state of war because their 1950-53 conflict ended under an armistice and not a peace treaty.

NBC's Andrea Mitchell examines North Korea's brewing threats and what they mean for neighboring South Korea.

According to North Korea's official KCNA news agency, the country's leader Kim Jong Un “judged the time has come to settle accounts with the U.S. imperialists in view of the prevailing situation” at a midnight meeting of top generals, Reuters reported.

The latest threats come one day after two nuclear-capable stealth bombers flew from Missouri to drop inert munitions on a range in South Korea as part of a major military exercise.

The U.S. official emphasized the danger posed by North Korea’s military and the unpredictable nature of its 30-year-old leader.

“North Korea is not a paper tiger so it wouldn't be smart to dismiss its provocative behavior as pure bluster. What's not clear right now is how much risk Kim Jong Un is willing to run to show the world and domestic elites that he's a tough guy,” said the official, who asked not to be named. “His inexperience is certain -- his wisdom is still very much in question.”

There was a mass demonstration in support of Kim involving tens of thousands of people in the main square of North Korean capital Pyongyang Friday, The Associated Press reported.

Placards read "Let's crush the puppet traitor group" and "Let's rip the puppet traitors to death!"

'War for national liberation'
The state-controlled KCNA also published an article that said the “opportunity for peacefully settling the DPRK-U.S. relations is no longer available as the U.S. opted for staking its fate. Consequently, there remains only the settlement of accounts by a physical means.” DPRK stands for Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, the North's official name.

“A battle to be fought by the DPRK against the U.S. will become a war for national liberation to defend the sovereignty and dignity of the country and, at the same time, a revolutionary war to defend the human cause of independence and the justice of the international community,” the article by “news analyst” Minju Joson said.

South Korea’s Yonhap news agency quoted a South Korean military official as saying that there had been “increased movement of vehicles and forces” at missile launch sites in the North. “We are closely watching possibilities of missile launches,” the unnamed official said.

North Korea routinely issues hostile statements but analysts have noted recent remarks have become more belligerent. In December, the North carried out a long-range rocket test and then detonated a nuclear bomb in a test earlier this year.

At a daily news briefing Friday, China’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said China was calling for an easing of tensions.

But some fear the situation could be getting out of control.

North Korea's young leader Kim Jong-un has issued almost daily threats, including the threat of nuclear strikes on Washington, D.C., and Seoul. In addition, Pyongyang has put its troops on combat readiness, warning that war "may break out at any moment." NBC's Ian Williams reports.

"It seems that Kim Jong Un is in the driving seat of a train that has been taken on a joyride," Lee Min-yong, an expert on North Korea at Sookmyung Women's University in Seoul, told Reuters.

Russia, meanwhile, appeared to criticize the U.S. over Thursday's bomber mission.

"We are concerned that alongside the adequate, collective reaction of the U.N. Security Council, unilateral action is being taken around North Korea that is increasing military activity," Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told reporters in Moscow, according to Reuters.

"The situation could simply get out of control; it is slipping toward the spiral of a vicious cycle," he said.
Reuters contributed to this report.
PhotoBlog: North Koreans rally in support of leader's call to arms
Nuclear-capable stealth bombers sent to South Korea amid Kim Jong Un's threats

Despite rhetoric from North, South Koreans carry on

Member of SEAL Team 6 killed, another SEAL injured in parachute accident

A  Navy SEAL from the elite SEAL TEAM 6 was killed and another SEAL injured Thursday night during a parachute training accident in Marana, Arizona, the military said. Details of the accident are not immediately available.

One SEAL was pronounced dead on arrival at the University of Arizona Hospital. The second remains hospitalized in stable condition.
Members of SEAL TEAM 6 carried out the raid that killed Osama Bin Laden. All SEAL teams receive extensive parachute training, which is often required for hostage rescue or anti-terrorist operations.
The names of the two SEALS involved in the fatal training mishap have not been released pending notification of next of kin.

2 female Marines unable to complete demanding officer course

WASHINGTON -- Two female officers entered the demanding Marine Infantry Officer Course this week — only the second time in the history of the course that women have been allowed to compete to become ground combat leaders — but neither passed the grueling obstacle course on Thursday, military officials said.

The women made it through the first few days of the course.
Of the 110 students who began the course this week, 96 are still enrolled — the women were joined by 12 of their Marine brothers who also failed to complete the obstacle course entirely or could not complete it in the time allotted.
The Marine Infantry Officer Course is 10 weeks of intense field training at Quantico, Va. Marines are tested to endure rigorous physical tests and written exams with little food or sleep, all of which push the men and women to their physical and mental limits. About 400 Marines take the course each year, and one in four drops out.
In January, former Defense Secretary Leon Panetta directed the U.S. military chiefs to study whether more combat-related jobs could be open to women.
The military services must report back to Chuck Hagel, Panetta's successor, with their findings by May 15.
Months before Panetta’s directive, the Marine Corps asked for women to volunteer to try the course as part of the ongoing effort to open more military billets to women.
So far four women have volunteered, but none have successfully completed the course.
Two female lieutenants entered the course last September — the first women ever allowed to do so. While both women eventually dropped the course, one of them made it well into the second week before an injury forced her out.
The two women who volunteered for this latest round will not likely be the last.  A U.S. military official tells NBC News that five more female Marines are already waiting in the wings to enter the course this summer.

Local official is 6th arrest in Georgia baby's shooting

Glynn County Police Dept.
Brunswick City Commissioner James Henry Brooks, 59, was arrested on Thursday.

The commissioner of a town where a baby was shot to death was arrested Thursday, the sixth arrest since the small Georgia community was shaken by last week's attack.

Brunswick, Ga., city commissioner James Henry Brooks was charged with influencing a witness and willful obstruction of law enforcement officers in the investigation into 13-month-old Antonio Santiago's death, Glynn County Undersheriff Ron Corbett said.

Brooks, 59, was still in jail Friday because no bond had been set for the charge of influencing a witness, Corbett said. A bond of $1,256 was set on the other charge.

Antonio's mother, Sherry West, says she was on her morning walk last Friday when two teens came up to her and demanded money. When she told them she didn't have any cash, she says, the older teen shot Antonio in the head and her in the leg. Her injury was not life-threatening.

Brooks' charges stem from a Monday courthouse incident in which he allegedly tried to block a county investigator from speaking with the mother of De'Marquis Elkins, one of the suspects in the case, reported NBC affiliate

Brooks was also indicted on unrelated racketeering charges in neighboring Camden County earlier Thursday, The Florida Times-Union reported. He was charged with taking money and influencing others in the local government from 2009 to 2011, the paper reported.

 Corbett, the Glynn County undersheriff, confirmed Brooks was indicted, but couldn't confirm the details.

Authorities investigating baby Antonio's death arrested suspects Elkins, 17, and Dominique Lang, 15, last Friday. Over the course of this week, they also arrested Elkins' mother, aunt, and sister for tampering with evidence.
Elkins' sister, Sabrina, 19, and mother, Karimah, 36, are still in custody, without the possibility of bond.

A handgun was discovered about two miles away from the crime scene, submerged a marsh, the Brunswick police spokesman said yesterday. On Friday, Corbett said that Elkins' mother, Karimah, who is still in custody, faces a second charge of possession of a firearm by a convicted felon, but said he couldn't elaborate on the charge.

The only eyewitness to the shooting was Antonio's mother. West said when she insisted she didn't have any money on her, the older of the two teens pointed a handgun at her.

"He says, 'Well, I'm gonna kill your baby,'" West said last week. "I put my arms over my baby and he shoves me. And then he shot my baby right in the head."

Both teens have been charged as adults.

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Pope washes feet of young detainees in Holy Thursday ritual

Osservatore Romano via AFP - Getty Images
Pope Francis washes the feet of a young offender during a mass at the church of the Casal del Marmo youth prison on the outskirts of Rome as part of Holy Thursday on March 28.

ROME – Since he was elected leader of the Roman Catholic Church, Pope Francis has proved many times over that he wants to break away from clerical privilege, come down from St. Peter’s throne and act as a humble servant of the faithful.
And on Holy Thursday he reinforced the idea that he will champion social outcasts and the poor by washing the feet of a dozen young inmates in a juvenile detention center.
The washing of feet is an important religious rite on Holy Thursday -- the day Christianity celebrates Jesus’ Last Supper ahead of his crucifixion -- as it re-enacts Christ’s humble gesture toward his disciples before the meal.
He washed their feet to show that “no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him,” according to Gospel of St. John 13:16.
But while in the past Francis’ predecessors washed the feet of priests in the Basilica of St. John in Lateran -- the most important of the four major basilicas in Rome -- Francis chose to kneel down before young offenders at the Casal del Marmo Penitentiary Institute for Minors.
The group of 12 young people who had their feet washed and kissed by the pope included two young women - the first time a pope included females in the rite. The ceremony has traditionally been limited to men, since all of Jesus' apostles were men.
Pope Francis took the traditional feet washing ritual a step further today as he washed the feet of dozen young offenders at a detention center in Rome today. ITV's Juliet Bremner reports.
The young people were aged between 16 and 21 and chosen from different nationalities and religious backgrounds - including two Muslims, according to a Vatican spokesman.  
“It is a gesture of humility and service,” Father Tom Rosica, a Vatican Press Office spokesperson, said before the ceremony.
“It teaches that liberation and new life are won not in presiding over multitudes from royal thrones nor by the quantity of bloody sacrifices offered on temple altars, but by walking with the lowly and poor and serving them as a foot-washer along the journey," he added.
'Viva Papa Francesco!'
As surprising as the decision by the pope might have seemed, Alessandro Speciale, a Vatican correspondent for Religion News Service, said he was just continuing a tradition he started in Buenos Aires.
“He has washed the feet of the poor and inmates on most Holy Thursdays as a cardinal and archbishop in Argentina,” Speciale said. “What’s surprising is that, as a pope, he is the one going to the inmates, and not the other way around.”
Speaking to about 1,600 priests who packed St. Peter’s Basilica for Mass on Thursday morning, Francis talked about the need to concentrate on the people they are ministering to.
“We need to go out, then, in order to experience our own anointing (as priests)… to the outskirts where there is suffering, bloodshed, blindness that longs for sight, and prisoners in thrall to many evil masters," he said.
The simple, personal, no-frills style of Pope Francis seems to have won over many Catholics, even jaded believers.
"It almost feels like the Vatican found itself a very good marketing and communication adviser,” said Valeria Angela Montis, a 38-year-old Roman.
“But I must say I am happy to see a pope who doesn't think he is God on earth and teaches what Jesus taught 2,000 years ago…teaching the church seemed to have forgotten years ago. Francesco is an honest pope!" she added.
Others think the church should look, and learn.
“The humility Pope Francis is showing is comforting,” said 40-year-old Roman Patrizia Melillo. “This is how the rest of the Church should be: normal, humble, without flaunting its privileges and richness, just like St. Francis taught. Viva Papa Francesco!”
 T his is a humble, working Pope. He does not like the opulent trappings that  normally  go with being the Pope. He will take the Church back to what it should be and what it should be doing. 
Related links: 
Pope chooses simple residence over papal apartment
Crowds pray with Pope Francis at start of holy week 
'We're brothers': Pope meets ex-pope for historic lunch
Pope Francis spoke of being 'dazzled' by girl, possible change of celibacy rule

Despite rhetoric from North, South Koreans carry on

Ahn Young-Joon / AP
South Korean vehicles return from a joint industrial complex in the North Korean city of Kaesong at the customs, immigration and quarantine office, near the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) north of Seoul, South Korea, on Thursday.

SEOUL – On Thursday morning 530 South Korean men and women went to work as usual, much to the relief of security officials in Seoul.
But theirs was no ordinary commute to the office, as it involved crossing the heavily fortified de-militarized zone separating the two Koreas in order to reach their desks at the Kaesong Industrial Zone.
The area, which opened in 2004, is home to 124 South Korean companies who directly employ 53,000 North Korean workers. As many as 250,000 other Northerners depend on the complex, which reportedly generates up to $2 billion a year in trade, and is by some estimates the biggest source of foreign currency for Pyongyang.
The complex over the years has mostly ridden out the ups and downs of relations on the peninsula, but on Wednesday Pyongyang cut a telephone hotline responsible for guaranteeing the safety of the South Korean workers commuting to work.
The workers headed to the office Thursday anyway – after receiving assurances that things were business as usual from the complex management.

Yonhap via Reuters
A U.S. Air Force B-2 Spirit stealth bomber flies over Pyeongtaek, south of Seoul, South Korea on Thursday.

For South Korean analysts and security officials, the daily commute and the fate of the Kaesong complex has become a litmus test of just how seriously to take the barrage of bellicose threats from the North. To close Kaesong would be a major blow to the North's finances.

Increased tensionTension has grown so high that two American B-2 Spirit stealth bombers practiced an attack on the Korean Peninsula Thursday as part of a joint military exercise with South Korea, dropping dummy munitions on an island range.
The move sparked more angry words from Pyongyang, which has already threatened strikes on New York, Washington and Seoul recently.
North Korea said it was cutting the last channel of communications with the South on Wednesday because war could break out at "any moment." Pyongyang also said earlier this month that it considers the armistice that ended the Korean War in 1953 void.
U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel weighed in on the tension Thursday, saying that the belligerent tone by North Korea has “ratcheted up the danger.”

‘Like an angry dog’Despite everything, South Koreans for the most part have a remarkable ability to shrug off threats from the North.
"It's like an angry dog barking from the other side of the fence," is the way one young Korean, who asked not to be identified, described it. "Me and my friends we really don't think about it that much."
But she conceded that her grandparents, who lived through the Korean War, have a family contingency plan.
"They tell us that if there's chaos in Seoul, we should all aim to meet at the central station every Wednesday at 4 o'clock."
Another young women, an employee of one of Korea's big consumer electronics companies who also spoke on the condition of anonymity, said that of late she'd been receiving more calls from friends in the States asking whether she's okay.
"'Relax,' I tell them. ‘We're used to this.’"

Domestic politics or blackmail?Still, the intensity and regularity of the threats is worrying to many analysts here. Some here caricature Kim Jong Un as a as a kind of bad James Bond villain, so over-the-top that he can't possibly be taken seriously. Others worry that he is young and untested, and is now faced in the South with a new president, Park Geun-hye, also untested, but promising a more robust approach to any skirmish with the North.
U.S. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel and General Martin Dempsey discuss the escalating tensions on
 the Korean Peninsula and the recent training missions conducted by U.S. stealth bombers.

She's threatened to hit back hard if there's a repeat of the 2010 attacks on a South Korean island or patrol boat in the tense west sea region, which analysts see as the most likely flashpoint.
Analysts broadly fall into two camps: the "it’s all about domestic politics" group and the "blackmail" group. The former sees the rhetoric as aimed primarily at a North Korean domestic audience, and reflecting the young Kim's insecurity, whipping up support at home by generating paranoia and hysteria.
The latter group thinks Kim is genuinely angry at new sanctions and military exercises between the U.S. and the South. They say the rhetoric is all about money, aid and resources, and more broad recognition as a nuclear state and direct talks with the U.S.

Bark continuesMeanwhile life goes on in Seoul, the most wired city on the planet. This vibrant metropolis of more than 10 million people has more and faster broadband connections than anywhere else on the planet, but sits just 30 miles from the world's most fortified border.
You only need travel a few miles north of here to encounter the first watchtowers and razor wire lining the banks of the Han river.
But you'd never know it amid the buzz of downtown Seoul. Or from the editorials in Thursday's Korean Herald, which were sinking their teeth into the nomination of the Fair Trade Commission and the challenges facing the National Tax Office.
The South Korean defense ministry has reassured people that it hasn't detected any unusual military movements across the border. Others question the North's ability to deliver on some of its more blood-curdling threats.
But the dog continues to bark.
And savvy analysts are focusing ever more closely on that daily commute to Kaesong.
The Associated Press contributed to this story. 
Related links: 
Nuclear-capable stealth bombers sent to South Korea amid Kim Jong Un's threats
North Korea puts rocket units on 'highest alert,' issues new threats to US
Kim Jong Un threatens attack on US bases in Pacific

Invoking Newtown, Obama presses Congress on guns

Gun control rallies were held in dozens of states Thursday in an effort to energize the cause as prosecutors in Connecticut released chilling details of their investigation into the tragedy in Newtown. But according to a poll released this week, there has been a drop in support for stricter gun laws since the days immediately following the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting. NBC's Stephanie Gosk reports.

President Barack Obama on Thursday sternly rebuked opponents of pending gun control measures, accusing them of “running out the clock” and hoping that the nation forgets last year’s Newtown school shooting in order to keep popular reforms from passing into law.

“The entire country was shocked, and the entire country pledged we would do something about it and that that this time would be different," the president said of the gun massacre that killed 20 children and six adults.

“Shame on us if we’ve forgotten.”

Flanked by Vice President Joe Biden and a group of mothers who have lost their children to gun violence, Obama accused gun rights groups of rooting for amnesia.

President Barack Obama delivers remarks Thursday at the White House regarding gun reform in America.
“The reason we’re talking about it here today is because it’s not done until it’s done,” he said. “And there are some powerful voices on the other side that are interested in running out the clock or changing the subject or drowning out the majority of the American people to prevent any of these reforms from happening at all. They’re doing everything they can to make all our progress collapse under the weight of fear and frustration or their assumption is that people will just forget about it.”

Obama's remarks came on the same day that authorities released new information about Newtown shooter Adam Lanza, including the list of guns and ammunition that he stockpiled for the attack. Lanza fired 154 bullets from a Bushmaster .223 caliber model XM15 rifle, the documents said.

Citing poll numbers that show broad support – as high as 90 percent in some polls -- for universal background checks, the president urged voters to “make yourself unmistakenly heard” to members of Congress in the days before the Senate takes up gun legislation next month.

“I ask every American to find out where your member of Congress stands on these ideas,” he said. “If they’re not part of that 90% who agree that we should make it harder for a criminal or somebody with a severe mental illness to buy a gun, then you should ask them why not.”

The legislation working its way through the Senate has hit numerous snags, with the threat of a filibuster now looming from lawmakers who say the president’s framework would restrict Second Amendment rights.

“The proposals the president is calling for Congress to pass would primarily serve to reduce the constitutionally protected rights of law-abiding citizens while having little or no effect on violent crime,” said Sen. Mike Lee of Utah, one of the Republicans who has pledged to block the legislation. “It is deeply unfortunate that he continues to use the tragedy at Newtown as a backdrop for pushing legislation that would have done nothing to prevent that horrible crime.”

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A federal assault weapons ban has already been dropped from the overall gun package that Senate lawmakers plan to introduce after the Easter recess, although advocates are pushing for a separate vote on the measure. (Obama did not specifically mention the ban in his remarks Thursday, focusing instead on the more politically palatable planks of the effort.)

And negotiators are still tussling over compromise language to require all gun buyers to complete a background check – a measure that need take significant Republican support to overcome the threat of a filibuster.

In recent weeks, Vice President Joe Biden has been the administration’s public point man on the gun issue, appearing with victims of violence and alongside gun control advocate new York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg to appeal for “courage” from Congress.

On a conference call with gun control supporters yesterday, Biden said the coming efforts are “just the beginning” of a public outcry to reduce gun violence.

“I think we’re on the verge of getting a serious, thorough universal background check system in place and it will — emphasize, it will — it will save lives,” Biden said.

Bloomberg has led the money charge, pledging to spend millions of his considerable fortune to pressure wavering lawmakers into supporting gun control proposals.

“If 90 percent of the public want something, and their representatives vote against that, common sense says, they are going to have a price to pay for that,” the New York City mayor said during an interview with NBC’s Meet the Press last weekend