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North and South Korea to pledge cross-border road and rail links | North Korea News

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A South Korean delegation has left for North Korea to attend a groundbreaking ceremony for reconnecting roads and railways across the divided peninsula despite stalled denuclearisation talks.

A nine-car special train carrying some 100 South Koreans, including officials and five people born in the North, was seen leaving Seoul railway station early on Wednesday morning for a two-hour journey to the North’s border city of Kaesong, according to AFP news agency.

South Korean President Moon Jae-in and the North’s leader Kim Jong-un agreed to hold the ceremony by the end of this year when they met at their third summit in Pyongyang in September.

Concerns arose that the train and other materials being brought into the North for the ceremony could breach various sanctions imposed on the isolated country over its nuclear weapons programme, but the UN Security Council reportedly granted a waver for the event.

Seoul stressed that the ceremony would not herald the start of actual work on reconnecting and modernising road and rail links between the two Koreas – which remain technically at war after their 1950-1953 conflict ended without a peace treaty.

The event is a mere “expression of a commitment” to the projects, a South Korean Unification Ministry spokesperson said, adding that construction would depend on “progress on the North’s denuclearisation and circumstances concerning sanctions”.

The two sides wrapped up their joint railway and road inspections for the projects this month.

South Korea has set aside some $620,000 for the endeavour.






WATCH: North Korea’s Kim agrees to ‘dismantle’ key missile test sites (02:23)

The ceremony comes as the United States ramps up efforts to convince Pyongyang to give up its nuclear weapons.

Following a rapid rapprochement earlier this year that culminated in a historic summit between Donald Trump and Kim, progress has stalled with both sides accusing each other of dragging their feet and acting in bad faith.

Critics say North Korea has made no concrete commitments and is unlikely to surrender its atomic arsenal, while Washington’s policy of maintaining pressure through isolation and sanctions has left Pyongyang seething.

Trump said on Monday that he was “looking forward” to his second summit with Kim, which Washington says may take place early next year.

He tweeted the statement after he was briefed by Stephen Biegun, the US special representative on North Korea, who wrapped up a three-day trip to Seoul on Saturday.

Biegun said last week Washington will be more lenient in enforcing its blanket ban on US citizens’ travel to the totalitarian state when dealing with aid workers, a goodwill gesture as Trump seeks a fresh summit.

The Trump administration has generally refused to let US aid groups operate in North Korea, seeking to both maximise pressure on Pyongyang and ensure the safety of Americans.

Biegun also said in Seoul last week Washington was willing to discuss trust-building initiatives with Pyongyang.

Senior transport officials from Russia, China and Mongolia as well as several foreign ambassadors to South Korea will attend Wednesday’s ceremony, the South’s Unification Ministry said.

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Ottawa families give mixed reviews for online schooling

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So, how’s it going with online school? Families reached by CBC Ottawa seem to have mixed reviews. 

Masuma Khan is a mother of two. Her seven-year-old, Hana Wyndham in Grade 2, is attending French immersion virtual school. Masuma is grateful it’s an option, but can’t help notice a lot of down time.

“There’s a lot of, ‘are you on mute?’ In terms of the amount of learning that’s actually happening, it does seem to be not that high,” said Masuma.

Parents who kept their children at home this fall are in the minority, but they still form a significant chunk of families in Ottawa.

In the city’s largest school board, the Ottawa-Carleton District School Board (OCDSB), about 27 per cent of elementary students and 22 per cent of high school students chose online learning. The Ottawa Catholic School Board says roughly a quarter of its students are online.

For Masuma, the decision to keep her daughter home was complex: extended family members are immunocompromised and she worried the in-person learning environment would be unpleasant because of precautions. She also felt her daughter might benefit from being supported at home.

“She doesn’t necessarily enjoy school. I also found out during the pandemic that she was being bullied [last year],” said Masuma. “So I thought, why not try from home?”

To help her daughter socialize face-to-face with other kids, Masuma enrolled Hana in Baxter Forest School, an alternative education program where kids spend most of their time outside, one day a week. Hana also attends virtual Arabic classes two days a week after school. 

Masuma’s husband and Hana share the living room work space, and Masuma admits he does the lion’s share of helping their daughter stay on task. There is a possibility that he’ll be required to return to his office in the new year.

“When he goes back to work … it’s probably going to be a little bit more difficult.”

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No school closures after Christmas holiday break, says Ontario education minister

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Ontario elementary and secondary schools will not close for an extended winter break, says Education Minister Stephen Lecce.

Closures aren’t needed given Ontario’s “strong safety protocols, low levels of (COVID-19) transmission and safety within our schools,” Lecce announced Wednesday afternoon. He said he had consulted with Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. David Williams and the province’s public health measures advisory table.

That ended speculation about school buildings remaining closed in January for a period of time after the Christmas break.

Earlier in the week, Lecce told reporters the government was considering having students spend “some period out of class” in January, perhaps switching to online learning.

In a statement, Lecce said that even though rates of community transmission of COVID-19 are increasing, “schools have been remarkably successful at minimizing outbreaks to ensure that our kids stay safe and learning in their classrooms.”

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Windy start to the week in Ottawa

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OTTAWA — It’s a blustery Monday in the capital with wind gusts of up to 50 km/hour expected throughout the day.

Environment Canada is forecasting a high of 4 C with a 60 per cent chance of showers or flurries before the wind dies down later this evening.

There’s a chance of flurries on Tuesday as well with a high of -1 C. The overnight low will dip to an unseasonal -9 C.  

Wednesday’s high will be just -5 C with lots of sunshine.

Seasonal temperatures return for the rest of the week..

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