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Nukes, economy, Trump summit: What’s in Kim Jong-un’s 2019 agenda | News

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Kim Jong-un will be keeping North Korea watchers busy on New Year’s Day, when he is expected to give his annual address laying out the country’s top priorities for the year ahead.

The speech, which is normally broadcast on North Korea’s state-run television network, is often the best gauge of what the North Korean leadership is focused on and what tone it will take in its dealings with the outside world.

For 2019, it will be parsed carefully for clues about Kim’s thinking on denuclearisation talks with Washington and a second summit with US President Donald Trump, relations with South Korea and Pyongyang’s efforts to get out from under international sanctions as it tries to build up its domestic economy.

A look at Kim’s plate for the coming year:

The economy

This is Kim’s primary concern. He made that clear in his 2018 News Year’s address and his government has been hammering it home ever since.

In his first televised speech, at a military parade in 2012, Kim vowed the nation would never again have to tighten its belts, a reference to the economic hardships it has faced, including a disastrous famine in the 1990s.

While they remain isolated and unable to travel or experience foreign media freely, North Koreans are aware of the yawning prosperity gap between themselves, South Korea and China.

Kim has tried to address that by initiating infrastructure projects in major cities, building up the capital and allowing – if not overtly supporting – the spread of the market economy. What’s not clear is how far he is willing to go with the kind of fundamental, systemic reforms needed to really ensure sustainable growth.

North Korea has hinted it wants to join the World Trade Organization and be more a part of the global economic community. But that would also require some risky moves – like increased transparency and commitment to global rules and norms. A big question is how much control Kim is willing to relinquish in exchange for prosperity.

North Korea is entering the fourth year of a five-year economic plan that Kim announced with great fanfare at a rare congress of his ruling party in 2016.

If precedent is any indication, he will go into some detail outlining, sector by sector, the country’s successes so far and emphasising what remains to be done.

This part of the speech is usually couched in deliberately vague, broad or aspirational language and is directed at the domestic party leadership.

But if Kim is serious about change, this could be where he drops some important hints.






Is North Korea’s timeline denuclearise for real?

Nuclear arsenal

North Korea is still standing firmly behind the agreements it made with Trump at the Singapore summit. The problem is that North Korea’s interpretation of what they agreed to is at odds with that of the Trump administration.

Kim never agreed to unilaterally throw away his hard-won nuclear arsenal, which he maintains is a necessary deterrent to the threat of an attack by the United States.

The North’s moratorium on nuclear tests and long-range missile launches also is not part of the summit agreement and there is no explicit promise in the Singapore joint statement that the North will not continue producing or developing its missiles.

So while the missiles have stopped flying for now, there’s still a lot up in the air.

Kim agreed the North would “work toward the complete denuclearisation of the Korean Peninsula”. But from the North’s perspective, it must include the removal of what it has always claimed is the reason why it has nukes in the first place – the threat of a US nuclear attack. While not directly criticising Trump, a tactic it is likely to stick with until it sees the overall process as seriously off the rails, the North has tried to play him against his advisers while it pushes for security guarantees and sanctions relief.

The bottom line is that North Korea has not given up much since Singapore. And it doesn’t think Washington has, either.

Trump has said a second summit could be held soon. The New Year’s speech gives Kim a golden opportunity to set the goalposts and to try to further detach Trump from his advisers.






North Korea’s Kim agrees to ‘dismantle’ key missile test sites

Relations with South Korea

In contrast to Pyongyang’s dealings with Washington, relations between North and South Korea have seen a major thaw.

With three leaders’ summits in 2018 and dozens of other meetings, the Koreas have opened a liaison office in the North Korean border town of Kaesong, created border buffers and no-fly zones to reduce military tensions, and jointly surveyed North Korea’s outdated railways and roads with the goal of connecting them with the South.

They even vowed to make a bid to jointly host the 2032 Summer Olympics.

But Seoul cannot proceed without the removal of U.S.-led international sanctions. While President Moon Jae-in sees inter-Korean reconciliation as a crucial part of nuclear diplomacy, his enthusiasm for engagement has caused discomfort in Washington. Pyongyang, meanwhile, has already begun expressing its frustration with the slowdown in inter-Korean projects and demanded that Seoul break from Washington’s lead.

Some analysts expect Kim to further try to drive a wedge between the allies with a nationalistic call for stronger inter-Korean cooperation, while painting Washington as a bad-faith actor refusing to take corresponding measures to the North’s unilateral dismantlement of a nuclear test site and the suspension of nuclear and long-range missile tests.

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Ottawa transit commission hopes to prioritize COVID-19 vaccines for OC Transpo workers

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Ottawa’s transit commission is pushing local and provincial health officials to recognize the role OC Transpo operators have played in keeping the city running during the COVID-19 pandemic, hoping to bump train and bus drivers in the vaccination queue amid a recent surge in coronavirus infections affecting transit workers.

More than 100 OC Transpo staff across the entire organization have tested positive for the coronavirus since the start of the pandemic, according to an update at Wednesday morning’s transit commission meeting.

Of those cases, 26 employees are currently recovering from the disease in self-isolation.

OC Transpo has seen a recent jump in COVID-19 cases, with Ottawa city council receiving reports of eight operators testing positive for the virus over a recent eight-day period.

Transit commissioner Sarah Wright-Gilbert attempted to find out how many of the total cases are traced to workplace transmission, but OC Transpo boss John Manconi said he’s been advised by medical officer of health Dr. Vera Etches that he can’t share that information for privacy reasons.

Transit operators are listed in the second priority group of essential workers as part of Ontario’s COVID-19 vaccine sequencing plans, but several commissioners speaking Wednesday wanted to get the city’s bus and train drivers bumped higher in the order.

Councillors Riley Brockington and Glen Gower both put forward motions looking to get front-line OC Transpo employees prioritization in vaccine sequencing, but others pointed out that the much-debated public health topic of who gets the vaccine and when is well beyond the scope of the transit commission.

“We are not in a position in transit commission to be decreeing, or making an edict, about what group of essential workers is more at risk than others and should be prioritized. That should be left up to public health experts,” Wright-Gilbert said.

Knoxdale-Merivale Coun. Keith Egli, who also chairs the Ottawa Board of Health, reflected on the board’s four-plus-hour meeting on Monday evening, during which vaccine sequencing and prioritizing essential workers dominated the conversation.

“Vaccine sequencing is obviously a very difficult maze to get through,” he said.

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COVID-19: Ottawa police announce end of 24-7 presence at Ontario-Quebec border

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Less than two days after the Ontario government’s latest COVID-19 restrictions came into effect, calling for non-essential traffic to be stopped at the province’s borders with Quebec and Manitoba, the Ottawa Police Service has announced it is stopping its 24-hour checkpoints.

According to a statement issued by the service Tuesday evening, the around-the-clock border checkpoints were set to end as of 8 p.m. on Tuesday in favour of rotating checkpoints across the city throughout the day until Ontario’s temporary regulations end.

“Since the onset of the border operations, the OPS has been working closely with Ottawa Public Health (OPH) along with local stakeholders and interprovincial stakeholders (the City of Ottawa, the City of Gatineau, the Ontario Provincial Police etc.) to assess any local public health, traffic and safety impacts. The assessment resulted in today’s operational changes,” the statement said.

“The operational changes announced today are designed to better ensure the health and safety of all, to minimize delays and/or hazards for travellers and to ensure essential workers can get to their places of employment on time.”

The statement also said the police service, while working to comply with the provincial order, was focused on education and enforcement actions that “support improved public health outcomes and respect the concerns of our most marginalized and racialized communities”

Officers said they will be conducting daily assessments on border crossings and that there could be further changes.

In a statement to Global News, a spokesperson for Solicitor General Sylvia Jones said that the border closures are ultimately subject to the discretion of local police enforcing the regulations.

“Local police services are best positioned to determine the operational deployments necessary to ensure the continued safety of their communities,” the spokesperson said, noting that the order’s regulations still apply to individuals entering the province.

The temporary order restricts Quebec residents from entering Ontario. If prompted, individuals must stop when directed by an enforcement officials and provide their reason for entering the province.

The main exemptions to the restrictions include if the person’s main home is in the province, if they work in Ontario, if they’re transporting goods, if they’re exercising Indigenous or treaty rights, if they need health care or if there’s a basis on compassionate grounds.

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COVID-19 vaccines in Ottawa: Nearly half of all residents in their 60s have at least one dose

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OTTAWA — Ottawa Public Health’s latest COVID-19 vaccination update shows that nearly half of all residents 60 to 69 years old have had at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, a figure that has all but doubled in the past week.

OPH’s COVID-19 vaccination dashboard shows 58,000 residents 60 to 69 have had at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, accounting for 49.3 per cent of that age group’s population in Ottawa. Last Wednesday, OPH reported 30,000 residents 60 to 69 had had at least one dose, which was 25.4 per cent.

As age demographics get younger, the population grows larger and the coverage by percentage may appear to grow more slowly, even if clinics are vaccinating greater numbers of people. For example, the latest figures show that 83 per cent of people aged 70 to 79 have had at least one dose. By raw population that’s 60,000 people, only slightly higher than half of all people in their 60s.

Vaccinations are open through the Ontario portal to anyone 60 and older and, this week, the AstraZeneca vaccine was approved for administration at pharmacies and primary care clinics to anyone in Ontario 40 and older.

OPH reported a new shipment this week of 25,740 doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine. To date, Ottawa has received 305,130 doses of COVID-19 vaccines from the provincial government.

The number of eligible residents (i.e. 16 and older) with at least one dose of a vaccine is now up to 28 per cent.

Tuesday was Ottawa’s second-busiest day for vaccinations overall, with the OPH reporting 9,729 shots administered. Last Friday saw 9,887 shots administered in a single day.

QUICK STATS

  • Ottawa residents with at least one dose: 248,668
  • Ottawa residents with two doses: 26,722
  • Percent of eligible population (residents 16 and older) with at least one dose: 28 per cent
  • Percent of eligible population (residents 16 and older) with two doses: 3 per cent
  • Percent of total population with at least one dose: 24 per cent
  • Percent of total population with two doses: 3 per cent

VACCINATION COVERAGE BY AGE FOR OTTAWA RESIDENTS WITH AT LEAST ONE DOSE

  • 10-19: 1.6 per cent (1,804 people)
  • 20-29: 8.3 per cent (13,452 people)
  • 30-39: 9.5 per cent (14,999 people)
  • 40-49: 12.9 per cent (17,350 people)
  • 50-59: 28.8 per cent (40,320 people)
  • 60-69: 49.3 per cent (58,627 people)
  • 70-79: 82.9 per cent (62,808 people)
  • 80-89: 87.5 per cent (29,358 people)
  • 90+: 89.2 per cent (7,893 people)
  • Unknown age: 2,057 people 

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