Nuclear war may break out any moment, says N. Korean UN envoy

North Korea’s deputy UN ambassador has warned the UN General Assembly that the crisis on the Korean Peninsula “has reached the touch-and-go point and a nuclear war may break out any moment.”

Kim In-ryong said North Korea is the only country in the world subjected to “such an extreme and direct nuclear threat” by the US, AP reports.

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© Sergey Guneev

He accused Washington of hatching a “secret operation aimed at the removal of our supreme leadership” and defended his country’s nuclear arsenal, at the heart of the crisis, as being for self-defense.

Speaking to the UN General Assembly’s disarmament committee, he insisted that nukes are Pyongyang’s “precious strategic asset that cannot be reversed or bartered for anything,” a line that other North Korean officials have voiced almost word-for-word before.

Also in line with the North’s previous rhetoric, he warned that “the entire US mainland is within our firing range and if the US dares to invade our sacred territory even an inch it will not escape our severe punishment in any part of the globe.”

At the same time Kim claimed that “the DPRK consistently supports the total elimination of nuclear weapons and the efforts for denuclearization of the entire world.” But not before the US renounces its nuclear arsenal.

READ MORE: US pushed N. Korea to create H-bomb – Pyongyang official

“Unless the hostile policy and the nuclear threat of the US is thoroughly eradicated, we will never put our nuclear weapons and ballistic rockets on the negotiating table under any circumstances,” he said.

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FILE PHOTO: South Korean navy vessels conduct a military drill © South Korean Navy

Despite round upon round of international economic sanctions, North Korea has been winding up its nuclear and ballistic missile programs with regular test blasts and launches.

On Monday, Russia joined the UN sanctions regime as President Vladimir Putin signed a 40-page decree restricting economic, scientific and technological cooperation with the North and identify 11 North Korean individuals linked to its nuclear program.

The EU also adopted a new range of sanctions to punish Pyongyang for its “continued and accelerated nuclear- and ballistic-missile programs.”

The US, meanwhile, has kicked off five-day naval exercises together with South Korea, in the waters surrounding the Korean Peninsula. Pyongyang has denounced the drills as provocative, and recently renewed its threats of a missile strike at the US Territory of Guam.

READ MORE: ‘Until first bomb drops’: Tillerson vows to continue diplomatic efforts on N. Korea

Washington and Pyongyang have been trading threats and verbal blows for months now, some of the most recent including US President Trump calling the North Korean leader Kim Jong-un a “rocket man…on a suicide mission” and receiving the label of “mentally-deranged US dotard” in return.

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Dramatic moment Iraqi forces enter Kurdish Kirkuk, captured by RT (VIDEO)

An RT Arabic crew has been on the frontline in Kirkuk and managed to film dramatic scenes showing the very moments the Iraqi military forced its way into the Kurdish-controlled city Monday.

The exclusive footage brought by RT Arabic correspondent Bzurk Muhammad shows tanks and armored personnel carriers roaming the empty Kirkuk roads while brandishing red, black and green Iraqi flags. As they stream deeper into the city, thick white smoke starts filling the air. Men armed with rifles can be seen firing shots in the direction of the procession from a sidewalk, sparking panic among the onlookers.

As the Iraqi forces were preparing to take over, many of the locals opted to flee Kirkuk as it turned into a battle zone.

“Half the Kirkuk residents have left the city, worried because of the confrontation between the Iraqi Army and the Kurdish forces. The residents are fleeing into Kurdistan’s other provinces and demanding the war and hostilities in Kirkuk be stopped,” Peshtivan Ahmad, a local resident, told RT.

With Kirkuk split between a Kurdish, Arab and Turkmen population, there were those who rejoiced at the sight of the Iraqi Army taking control over the city.

“Where are Asayish [Kurdish intelligence agency] and Peshmerga?! They have abandoned the city. We are calling on the Iraqi government to hold corrupt officials and crooks who squandered Kirkuk’s budget accountable,” Sheikh Emad Fili, a local resident, told RT.

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Iraqi army members advance in military vehicles in Kirkuk, Iraq October 16, 2017 © Reuters

The lack of concerted response to the Iraqi forces’ invasion from the Kurdish militias highlighted the discord between different Kurdish factions, as some of the militias were reported to leave Kirkuk and others stayed to face off with the Iraqi forces.

Iraqi Army soldier Ahmad Hussaine told Muhammad that the troops have been on a hunt for Peshmerga fighters who might be still holing up in the city.

“Thank God, our combat spirit is very high,” Hussaine said, adding that the Iraqi forces have been combing the terrain in search for Kurdish fighters since Sunday.

“Some eight Peshmerga fighters were killed at the beginning. And since then we haven’t found anyone,” he said, noting that although there have been other instances of clashes with Peshmerga, they have not resulted in casualties.

“They tried to resist. They opened fire at us, but no one was hurt.”

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Israel approves first new settlement in UNESCO-protected Hebron in 15 years

Israel has approved 31 new settlement homes in the city of Hebron in the West Bank for the first time in 15 years.

Hebron is the largest Palestinian city in the West Bank and is home to a population of about 1,000 Israeli settlers who live in the middle of the Old City.

The new houses will be built for the Beit Romano settlement on what used to be a bus station on Shuhada Street. The Civil Administration’s Licensing Subcommittee approved the permits, but said they are subject to conditions, including appeal, the Times of Israel reports.

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A general view shows a construction site in the Israeli settlement of Efrat, in the occupied West Bank December 22, 2016. © Baz Ratner

The Times of Israel and the Jewish Press report the approval was seen as an Israeli response to the United Nations Educational, Scientific, Cultural Organization’s (UNESCO) recent decision to list Hebron’s Old City as an “endangered Palestinian World Heritage Site.”

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has approved a number of new settlements this year. The building of settlements on land in the Palestinian Territories is perceived as an obstacle to the peace process and is considered a violation of article 49 of the Geneva Convention.

Settlement advocates say even though there has been a number of announcements of new settlement construction, only a fraction may actually be built in the end, Reuters reports.

“The permits approved today would increase the number of settlers in Hebron by 20 percent,” Hagit Ofran of Israeli Peace Now told RT. “They required significant legal acrobatics that might not stand the test of the High Court of Justice. While doing everything in his power to please a small group of settlers, Netanyahu is harming Israel’s morality and image abroad, while crushing basic values of human rights and dignity.”

“We thank the prime minister, government ministers, Knesset members and all public figures who worked with determination and dedication together with us to promote this construction,” the Jewish community of Hebron said in a statement, the Jewish News reports. “We ask everyone to ensure that the construction is indeed carried out without delay.”

The last time settlements were approved in Hebron was in 2002, when 10 units were built in Tel Rumeida.

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Maltese journalist who accused govt of corruption killed in car blast

One of Malta’s most prominent investigative journalists, Daphne Caruana Galizia, has been killed in a presumed car bomb attack.

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Malta's Prime Minister Joseph Muscat © Oliver Hoslet

The 53-year-old was killed when the car she was driving exploded near her home in Bidnija, near Mosta in northern Malta, the Times of Malta reports.

The explosion took place at around 3pm local time according to Malta’s police force.

Caruana Galizia ran the hugely popular ‘Running Commentary’ blog which had a track record of highlighting scandals in the Mediterranean country.

Malta’s prime minister, Joseph Muscat, who was the focus of one of Caruana Galizia’s reports earlier this year, denounced the killing in a televised press conference.

“I condemn without reservations this barbaric attack on a person and on the freedom of expression in our country,” he said. “Everyone knows Ms Caruana Galizia was a harsh critic of mine, both politically and personally, as she was for others too.”

However, he said there could be “no justification… in any way” for the killing. “I will not rest before justice is done,” he added.

Malta Television reported that Caruana Galizia had filed a complaint to the police two weeks ago to say she had received threats but gave no further information.

In 2016 the blogger was named as one of Politico’s “28 people who are shaping, shaking and stirring Europe.”

Maltese police have opened a murder inquiry.

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Barrels, ballots & ISIS: Why Iraq is taking back Kirkuk, and what the US will do about it

Baghdad’s military incursion into Kurdish-controlled Kirkuk shows that the carve-up of the post-Islamic State landscape in the Middle East is in full swing, and leaves the US bemoaning its repeated failure to influence the region as two of its sponsored allies face off against each other.

READ MORE: Iraqi forces taking over Kirkuk ‘a declaration of war’ – Kurdish Peshmerga

Why is Baghdad advancing against the Kurds now?

Iraqi Kurdistan, which has enjoyed de facto full autonomy from Baghdad since the end of the First Gulf War in 1991, may have overplayed its hand when it went ahead with a symbolic independence referendum on September 25, despite warnings from both regional rivals and allies, including the US.

Ninety-three percent of the voters said they endorsed a Kurdish nation state, but regional capital Erbil has provoked reprisals that Baghdad – supported by Turkey and Iran, which have their own restive Kurdish minorities – had promised in advance.

“It is my constitutional duty to work for the benefit of the citizens and to protect our national unity that came under threat of fragmentation as a result of the referendum that was organized by the Kurdish region,” Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi said as tanks rolled towards the northern city.

“The referendum came at a time where the country is fighting against terrorism that has come in the form of ISIS [Islamic State/IS, also ISIL]. We tried to urge the Kurds not to violate the constitution and to focus on fighting ISIS, but they did not listen They chose their personal interests over Iraq’s interests.”

Is Kirkuk Kurdish?

Although it borders the recognized Kurdistan Region, it is not an official part of it, and its participation in the referendum vote was particularly infuriating for the Iraqi government. In fact, the population of the region, which numbers over 1 million people, is split between Kurds, Arabs and Turkmen, and some of Kirkuk city’s residents have welcomed the incoming militias, just as others have fled the city.

The region had been under increasing Kurdish control since the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003, and particularly after 2014, when the retreat of the Iraqi Army in the face of the IS threat created a vacuum which the Kurds stepped into. In subsequent years, they had instituted various policies to solidify the Kurdish identity of the region, including incentivizing Arab families to sell up and leave.

Historically, Kurds believe that Kirkuk is a fundamental part of any future state – often referring to it as “our Jerusalem” – and still resentfully remember the policies of ‘Arabization’ in the 1960s and 70s that tried to integrate the region into Iraq, partly by bringing in sizable Arabic populations and deporting Kurds.

Is it about the oil?

While the oil contained in the ground in Kirkuk is important to both sides in the long run, tactically the impact of losing the fields is likely to be more painful for the Kurdistan Region. The 250,000 barrels per day produced in the governorate represent more than a third of the oil output of the entire Kurdish autonomy, while Iraq pumps out more than 4 million barrels daily from its other oil fields. Still, Baghdad regards the Kurds’ unwillingness to share the proceeds from the export of hydrocarbons in the past half-decade as unfair.

How have the Kurds responded to Baghdad’s offensive?

In the days prior to the invasion Kurdish politicians united in telling Baghdad that they would not declare their referendum null – a condition imposed by the government – nor give up Kirkuk, but in the past hours the surrender of the region has triggered a flood of recriminations and empty calls. The Peshmerga command said Iraq’s advance was a “declaration of war” and urged its troops to “resist and defeat” the Shiite militias who led it, while accusing one of Kurdistan’s leading parties, the PUK, of “great and historic treason” for abandoning key positions. But late on Monday, a Peshmerga commander said the retreat was “not a mistake,” noting that their forces had been “outnumbered.” Masoud Barzani, the president of the Kurdistan Region, issued a face-saving statement that urged fighters to avoid confrontation, yet gave them a “green light” to fight back if they are attacked. The actual amount of violence on the ground has been reported as negligible by the Iraqis, and more substantial by the Kurds, who have said that their countrymen have been killed, and houses have been looted and burned.

What has been the US approach to mediating the conflict in its anti-IS coalition, and can it do anything?

Indecisive and ineffectual. Prior to the referendum, Washington said that it would not support Kurdistan in any conflict that might arise from its independence declaration, but waited until two days before the vote to send a letter in which it proposed a diplomatic solution – a postponement of the referendum for one year, in exchange for substantive talks – by which time it was too late.

As the conflict loomed in the past days, and eventually boiled over, the US was left to react.

“We’re not taking sides, but we don’t like the fact that they are clashing. We’ve had for many years very good relationship with the Kurds, as you know. And we’ve also been on the side of Iraq,” said Donald Trump on Monday evening.

Some have expressed concern that Washington’s bête noire Iran, which has close links with the Shiite government in Baghdad, and whose forces Kurds claim are in Kirkuk, now has the upper hand in Iraq, which would represent a humiliating defeat for US foreign policy.

Other are worried that the infighting could spark a resurgence in Islamic State.

“ISIS remains the true enemy of Iraq, and we urge all parties to remain focused on finishing the liberation of their country from this menace,” read a statement from the US embassy in Baghdad.

But more likely this is a fight for the spoils of its defeat among situational allies who have lost a common enemy. More alarming than the current Islamic State threat is that Iraq once again appears to be in identical conditions to the ones in which the terrorist group appeared in the first place – riven by ethnic and sectarian divides, with a central government that is lording it over embittered minorities keen on more autonomy from it.

“Once ISIS is down and out we don’t want another terrorist group to rise up and also some of the old conditions or tensions now come back to the forefront,” acknowledged US Defense Secretary James Mattis last week in an ultimately futile warning. “We can’t turn on each other right now.”

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‘Kill Baby Hitler': Magazine’s tweet on soon-to-be Austrian Chancellor Kurz triggers terrorism probe

A German-based satirical magazine landed in hot water when Austrian counterterrorism authorities launched a probe into a controversial tweet, which branded Sebastian Kurz, who is set to be the next Austrian chancellor, “Baby Hitler” and urged people to “kill” him.

READ MORE: Sebastian Kurz, most talented Austrian leader since WWII, will toughen immigration laws – analysts

The tweet by the German satirical magazine Titanic came a day after the center-right People’s Party (OVP), led by the prominent Austrian politician Kurz, 31, came in first during the country’s general elections.

The tweet features a photo of Kurz with a crosshair sign over his heart and a caption reading: “Finally possible: Kill baby Hitler.” The left corner of the picture reads “Time travel in Austria” in an obvious pop-culture reference to the decades-old thought experiment on going back in time and killing Hitler before his atrocities were ever committed.

READ MORE: Rise of the right: Austria’s election results & their implications for Europe

The caption, however, obscurely addresses “Austrian Titanic subscribers,” giving a link to the magazine’s subscribe page.

The controversial picture promptly drew the attention of law enforcement. The Vienna police replied to Titanic’s tweet, stating that it had already alerted unspecified “competent authorities.”

The photo was sent for investigation to anti-terrorism units and an investigation was launched, the police told Der Standard newspaper.

The satirical magazine did not back down lightly though, jokingly replying to the police tweet and calling it “Vienna department for time travel.”

Titanic’s head editor, Tim Wolff, told the local Meedia news outlet that the strong reaction of the Austrian authorities can be explained by the country not getting over its Nazi past, unlike the Germans. The magazine has not yet been directly contacted by Austrian investigators, according to Wolff.

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Catalan separatist leaders detained amid sedition investigation

Spain’s High Court has remanded two leaders of a Catalan separatist organization on suspicion of sedition. The prosecution alleges them to be the key figures in organizing the recent independence referendum, which was deemed illegal by Madrid.

The leader of the Catalan National Assembly (ANC), Jordi Sanchez, and Jordi Cuixart of the Omnium Cultural group were jailed on Monday after questioning.The two men will not be allowed to post bail and remain in custody.The Catalan regional police chief, Maj. Josep Lluis Trapero, and colleague Lt. Teresa Laplana were also questioned on Monday, but unlike the Catalan independence activists they have avoided jail. The police officials, however, were forced to give up their passports and have to appear in court every two weeks.

READ MORE: Catalan quandary: No big national power supports its independence – analyst

The four people are under investigation over their role in the demonstrations in Barcelona on September 20-21, which erupted as several Catalan officials were arrested and Spanish police raided offices during the crackdown ahead of the referendum on October 1.

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Man-eating bears ‘besieging’ Siberian villages – official

Large bears have killed two people in Russia already this fall with a lack of food, making the animals increasingly aggressive and dangerous.

Authorities in the country’s far-east have had to shoot 83 bears as a result – a three-fold increase on previous years.Two men, a hunter and a fisherman, died in September following bear attacks on Sakhalin, a large forest-covered island off Russia’s east coast. The bears have also reportedly attacked dogs cattle and other animals.A local forestry worker, speaking on the condition of anonymity, told AFP that a lack of fish, berries and nuts are forcing the bears to seek out an alternative food source, putting them into contact with humans.

The source also said that overfishing of salmon was partly to blame.

“There should not have been any fishing nets installed at all this summer, there is so little fish, but they installed them anyway,” he said.

Usually rare occurrences, bear attacks on humans have increased this year, especially in Siberia. In September an oil worker was attacked and eaten by bears in the Yamalo-Nenets region.

Local media reports that some towns in the region are besieged by hungry animals, looking to build up fat reserves before hibernation.

“The animals are very active, they are seen right on the outskirts of settlements, scaring people and making them feel besieged,” the region’s wildlife and control service said, reported the Siberian Times.

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Man & machine will be melded into 1 within 20yrs – IBM expert

A senior IBM inventor has predicted that within 20 years humans will be injected with nanomachines that will be able to repair and enhance our bodies and augment our thoughts.

In a submission to the Artificial Intelligence Committee of the UK’s House of Lords, John McNamara, who works at IBM’s Hursley Innovation Centre, said that the tiny robots will have enormous medical benefits.

“We may see AI nanomachines being injected into our bodies. These will provide huge medical benefits, such as being able to repair damage to cells, muscles and bones perhaps even augment them,” McNamara said to the committee, which is weighing up the economic, ethical and social implications of artificial intelligence.

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© David Wimsett / Global Look Press

The expert predicted within two decades humans and machines will effectively be “melded” together, paving the way for huge advancements in human consciousness.

“We see the creation of technology that can meld the biological with the technological, and so be able to enhance human cognitive capability directly, potentially offering greatly improved mental (capabilities), as well as being able to utilise vast quantities of computing power to augment our own thought processes.”

“Using this technology embedded in ourselves and in our surroundings, we begin to be able to control our environment with thoughts and gestures alone,” he added.

While McNamara’s sci-fi-sounding claims highlighted the positive developments AI will bring, another expert warned that its continued rise will come at a cost.

“The immediate concern is that by ceding decisions or control to machines, the humans start accepting their decisions as correct or better than their own and stop paying attention,” Noel Sharkey, Emeritus Professor of AI and Robotics, University of Sheffield said.

READ MORE: ‘We’re at most dangerous moment in history of humanity,’ Stephen Hawking warns

“There is a growing body of evidence that the learning machine decision makers are inheriting many invisible biases among their correlations,” Sharkey, who is director of the Foundation for Responsible Robotics, added.

Sharkey’s concerns are echoed by other high profile voices from the world of science and technology including Stephen Hawking and Elon Musk.

Musk has repeatedly advocated restricting AI development and has warned that competition between nations in this area may lead to World War III.

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Oil prices rising as Iraqi forces advance on Kurdish-held territory

Global crude prices have hit a three-week high as the conflict between Iraqi and Kurdish forces intensifies. Iraqi troops are advancing on the city of Kirkuk, reportedly seizing the region’s oil fields.

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© Zohra Bensemra

West Texas Intermediate crude rose 1.6 percent to $ 52.29 per barrel, setting it on track for its highest settlement price since the end of September, according to FactSet data.

Brent crude contracts for December gained 2.13 percent to $ 58.39, also trading around its highest level since late September.

The oil-producing region has been a contention between the Iraqi central government and the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG).

The tension in the province has sparked a conflict between Bagdad and the KRG after Iraqi Kurds voted for independence from Iraq in a September referendum. Kirkuk was included in the vote, despite competing claims to the disputed area.

Kurdistan has reportedly shut down 350,000 barrels per day (bpd) of production from the region’s major Bai Hassan and Avana fields as the tension escalated.

According to reports, crude exports continue to flow from fields in Kirkuk despite clashes between government troops and Kurdish forces.

Industry analysts highlight current geopolitical risks may have a significant impact on the global oil market.

“In recent months we have stressed on a number of occasions that the tensions and potential effects on the production and transport infrastructure in the region pose the biggest risk to our fairly conservative price forecasts. We otherwise see the oil market as still amply supplied, which would rather justify a Brent price of $ 50 per barrel,” analysts at Commerzbank said as quoted by MarketWatch.

“The return of a geopolitical risk premium could usher in a sustained bout of price strength just as OPEC dithers over whether to prolong supply cuts,” said Stephen Brennock, oil analyst at PVM Oil Associates as cited by CNBC.

The oil fields in Kirkuk and deposits in the Kurdish region of northern Iraq were reportedly exporting about 600,000 barrels a day to Turkey via a Kurd-controlled pipeline.

In an attempt to regain control of the disputed area Iraqi troops reportedly captured a refinery, a gas plant and other facilities.

“The Iraqi government is cash-poor, for all the obvious reasons, so consequently gaining control of these northern oil fields, therefore, improves their ability to control a cash generator,” Bob Parker, senior advisor at Credit Suisse told CNBC.

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