Thursday, August 16, 2018
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Seoul – North Korean leader Kim Jong Un Sunday attended the first concert in Pyongyang for over a decade by South Korean entertainers, including a K-pop girlband, the latest gesture of reconciliation before a rare inter-Korean summit.

The visit, described by many as a cultural charm offensive by the South, came as a diplomatic thaw quickens on the peninsula after months of tensions.

The 120-member group — 11 musical acts as well as dancers, technicians and martial artists — gave one concert on Sunday with another set for Tuesday.

Kim and his wife, a former singer herself, came to watch Sunday’s show, making him the first leader of the North to attend a concert by South Korean performers.

Kim shook hands and took photos with the stars backstage, saying inter-Korean cultural events should be held more often and suggesting another event in the South Korean capital this autumn, pool reports said.

The young couple were seen clapping their hands during the two-hour event — also attended by Kim’s powerful sister, Kim Yo Jong, and ceremonial head of state Kim Yong Nam.

“Please tell (South Korean) President Moon Jae-in how great an event like this is… I am grateful for a gift like this (concert) to the people of Pyongyang,” Kim told visiting Seoul officials.

Kim also showed “great interest in the songs and lyrics (of South Korean singers) during the concert,” Do Jong-hwan, Seoul’s culture chief and the head of the delegation, told reporters.

The South’s taekwondo athletes also staged a performance before an audience of 2,300 in Pyongyang on Sunday ahead of a joint display of the Korean martial art with the North’s practitioners on Monday.

The ongoing rapprochement was triggered by the South’s Winter Olympics, to which the North’s leader Kim Jong Un sent athletes, cheerleaders and his sister as an envoy.

A North Korean art troupe staged two performances in the South in February to celebrate the Games.

Kim followed up by agreeing to a summit with Moon, and offering a face-to-face meet with US President Donald Trump. Kim also met Chinese President Xi Jinping in Beijing last week during his first overseas trip.

The inter-Korean summit, the third after meetings in 2000 and 2007, will be held on April 27. No date has been set for the US-North Korean summit although it is expected before the end of May.

In another sign of eased tensions, an annual US-South Korean military exercise which got under way in the South Sunday will last for just one month compared to some two months normally.

This year’s drills feature fewer strategic weapons such as nuclear-powered aircraft carriers, Seoul’s military has said. Such deployments during past drills has frequently drawn an angry response from Pyongyang.

 

– ‘Let’s do our best’ –

 

Sunday’s concert to a packed audience at the elaborately decorated 1,500-seat East Pyongyang Grand Theatre ended with a standing ovation after a finale in which all the stars appeared on stage to sing a song about unification.

One of the most closely watched acts was Red Velvet, part of the South’s hugely popular K-pop phenomenon that has taken audiences in Asia and beyond by storm in recent decades.

Before the concert, even the leader Kim joked: “There was so much interest in whether I’d come to see Red Velvet or not.”

The five-member girlband — known for its signature K-pop mix of upbeat electronic music, stylish fashion and high-voltage choreography — performed two of their hits, “Bad Boy” and “Red Flavour”.

“The North’s audience applauded to our performance much louder than we expected and even sang along to our songs… it was a big relief,” band member Yeri told reporters.

“I told myself, ‘let’s do our best even if there’s no response (from the audience)… but they showed so much reaction,” added a member called Wendy.

Another member, Seulgi, appeared red-eyed as she bid farewell to the audience at the end of the concert, apparently overcome with emotion.

 

– ‘Maze of Love’ –

 

Despite the North’s isolation and strict curbs on unauthorised foreign culture, enforced with prison terms, K-pop and South Korean TV shows have become increasingly popular there thanks to flash drives smuggled across the border with China.

The emcee of Sunday’s concert was a popular member of K-pop band Girls’ Generation, Seohyun, who had performed with the visiting North Korean singers during their Seoul concert in February.

Legendary South Korean singer Cho Yong-pil, who held a solo sell-out concert in Pyongyang in 2005, was another star of the show.

Kim’s late father and longtime ruler, Kim Jong Il, was known to be a fan of the 68-year-old Cho.

Another famous singer, Choi Jin-hee, also performed for the fourth time in the North and sang “Maze of Love” — a hit in both Koreas and another of the late Kim’s favourites.

But not all onlookers were receptive to the K-pop offensive.

During the taekwondo event, a previously-enraptured audience turned stone-faced during a performance combining K-pop dance and Taekwondo routines to a hit song by the ultra-popular boyband BTS.

The stiffened crowd refused to respond to the athletes who asked them to clap their hands to “Fire” — an intense electro-dance score peppered with rapid-fire rap delivered in both Korean and English. //AFP

 

 

YESTERDAY marked a milestone for Thailand’s existing political parties, who were allowed to start reaffirming their membership lists, and their leaders began declaring their new policies, with an emphasis on the lingering military influence.

While the Democrat Party, many of whose former MPs joined the whistle-blowing protests that preceded the 2014 coup, held firm that it would not support Prime Minister General Prayut Chan-o-cha remaining in office after the election, the Bhumjaithai Party was reluctant to make its position clear.

“Party members would have to support the party’s leader, whoever he or she will be. Those wanting to support Prayut should choose the other way and not come here. There are many parties that would endorse such support,” Democrat Party leader Abhisit Vejjajiva said yesterday.

We would have to see how the military would enter [politics] and how many votes they would have [in the parliament],” he said.

According to the junta-written 2017 charter, the Upper and Lower Houses would jointly nominate the prime minister, who could be an “outsider”, if MPs could not agree over a list of three candidates for the top job.

Given the charter-invented mixed-member apportionment electoral system, it is very likely that the majority of MPs will be from diverse medium-sized and small parties, and the major parties will have a hard time to gain a parliamentary majority.

Senators will not only be wholly handpicked by the junta, but some of the seats in the Senate will be reserved for top-ranking military officers.

Political observers have said that such a scenario would weaken the power of the major parties while empowering the military in post-election politics.

The Democrat Party’s headquarters in Bangkok yesterday was buzzing with hundreds of former MPs and supporters visiting to reaffirm their memberships.

 

Facebook chief Mark Zuckerberg vowed Wednesday to “step up” to fix problems at the social media giant, as it fights a snowballing scandal over the hijacking of personal data from millions of its users.

“We have a responsibility to protect your data, and if we can’t then we don’t deserve to serve you,” Zuckerberg said, in his first public comments on the harvesting of Facebook user data by a British firm linked to Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign.

Writing on his Facebook page, Zuckerberg announced new steps to rein in the leakage of data to outside developers and third-party apps, while giving users more control over their information through a special toolbar.

Zuckerberg said measures had been in place since 2014 to prevent precisely the sort of abuse revealed at the weekend.

“But we also made mistakes, there’s more to do, and we need to step up and do it,” he said.

The scandal erupted when a whistleblower revealed that British data consultant Cambridge Analytica (CA) had created psychological profiles on 50 million Facebook users via a personality prediction app, created by a researcher named Aleksandr Kogan.

The app was downloaded by 270,000 people, but also scooped up their friends’ data without consent — as was possible under Facebook’s rules at the time.

Facebook says it discovered last week that CA may not have deleted the data as it certified.

“This was a breach of trust between Kogan, Cambridge Analytica and Facebook,” Zuckerberg wrote. “But it was also a breach of trust between Facebook and the people who share their data with us and expect us to protect it.”

“We need to fix that.”

– Probe by special counsel? –

Zuckerberg’s admission follows another day of damaging accusations against the world’s biggest social network as calls mounted for investigations on both sides of the Atlantic.

Max Schrems, a Vienna-Based activist who has brought online data protection cases before European courts, told AFP he complained to the Irish Data Protection Authority in 2011 about the controversial data harvesting methods.

Schrems also recounted a seven-hour meeting with Facebook representatives the following year to discuss concerns around apps operating in this fashion, but said they said they saw no problems with their policies.

“They explicitly said that in their view, by using the platform you consent to a situation where other people can install an app and gather your data,” Schrems said.

ABC News reported meanwhile special counsel Robert Mueller, who is investigating Russian interference in the 2016 campaign, was looking at Cambridge Analytica’s role in the Trump effort.

Citing anonymous sources, ABC said several digital experts who worked on Trump’s campaign have held closed-door interviews with Mueller’s team.

The British firm has maintained it did not use Facebook data in the Trump campaign, but its now-suspended CEO boasted in secret recordings that his company was deeply involved in the race.

– #DeleteFacebook –

The data scandal has ratcheted up the pressure on Facebook — already under fire for allowing fake news to proliferate on its platform during the US presidential election.

A movement to quit the social network gathered momentum, while a handful of lawsuits emerged which could turn into class actions — in a costly distraction for the company.

One of those calling it quits was a high-profile co-founder of the WhatsApp messaging service acquired by Facebook in 2014.

“It is time. #deletefacebook,” Brian Acton said in a tweet protesting the social media giant’s handling of the crisis.

Both Facebook and CA have denied wrongdoing, as attention focused increasingly on Kogan, the inventor of the controversial app — personality survey dubbed This Is Your Digital Life.

But Kogan said in an interview he was “stunned” by the allegations against him, claiming CA had assured him his activities were above board.

“I’m being basically used as a scapegoat by both Facebook and Cambridge Analytica,” he told the BBC. “We thought we were acting perfectly appropriately. ”

The University of Cambridge psychologist said CA had approached him to do the work, and that he did not know how the firm would use the data collected with his app.

European Union officials have called for an urgent investigation while British, US and EU lawmakers have asked Zuckerberg to give evidence.

Responding to Zuckerberg’s comments Wednesday, US Senator Ed Markey of Massachusetts was the latest lawmaker to call on Zuckerberg to appear.

“You need to come to Congress and testify to this under oath,” Markey tweeted.

British Prime Minister Theresa May has urged Facebook and CA to cooperate with the national information commissioner’s probe.

“The allegations are clearly very concerning,” she told MPs.

“People need to have confidence in how their personal data is being used.”

Facebook shares steadied Wednesday, gaining 0.74 percent after steep declines this week that wiped out some $50 billion in market value.

But questions abounded on the future of Facebook, which has grown from a startup in a Harvard dorm room to become one of the world’s most powerful companies.

Analyst Brian Wieser at Pivotal Research said Facebook “is exhibiting signs of systemic mismanagement,” possibly from growing too fast.

“Investors now have to consider whether or not the company will conclude that it has grown in a manner that has proven to be untenable,” Wieser said in a research note.

 

Prime Minister General Prayut Chan-o-cha on Monday urged people during his mobile Cabinet trip to the upper South to vote for those who have a longer-term vision, and not for candidates offering them short-sighted promises and populist policies, or the country would become bankrupt with everyone suffering as a result.

The premier joined his Cabinet members in inspecting the two main upper-South provinces of Samut Sakhon and Phetchaburi, where fishery is a prime business sector and the use of foreign labour has long been a major challenge for the country to properly address in order to receive international acceptance.

Prayut however took a few moments during the trip to mention politics, urging people to look beyond the present so that they could see their future, and particularly their happiness.

The PM said he wanted people to understand exactly what democracy means, with the holding of an election being one of the prime tools towards achieving democracy, but the electorate should also have knowledge about the candidates they were choosing from.

In his view, they should vote for people who have a work principle and a sustainable work approach, and not for those favouring short-sighted offerings as that would “collapse the country and we would all be in trouble”.

The premier stressed this point particularly in relation to state officials like kamnans and village heads.

“We must know what true democracy is. If we keep voting simply for those giving things away, we will be all [economically] dead, I tell you,” he insisted.

Prayut urged people to consider their choices carefully.

They should not throw their support behind anyone simply giving things away, but should back someone who would steer the country forward with plans every five years, he said.

The premier also said he was concerned about those “in the middle” and who say that anyone can become the government, as they have no interest in politics.

This, he suggested, could lead to a reckless government damaging the state budget, which would be dangerous for the country.

Prayut also insisted that he was not campaigning to vie for votes.

His government, he said, had been working for all people nationwide, and not those in one particular province, and would not “sell a dream” to people.

But, if the government could be said to be offering a dream, it would be something with a national strategy that would lead the country forward in a proper way, he added.

“People would like me if I just kept giving stuff away, but we [the government] just work based on principle,” the PM emphasised, adding that his administration was ready for any kind of scrutiny, with him alone having “over 400 to 500 cases pending” for that type of examination.

 

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