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Koreas hold high-level talks on third leaders’ summit

The two Koreas opened high-level talks Monday to prepare for a possible summit in Pyongyang between the South’s President Moon Jae-in and the North’s leader Kim Jong Un, as the diplomatic thaw on the peninsula builds.

The exact date and location of what would be their third meeting have yet to be decided, but at their historic first summit in Panmunjom in April they agreed Moon would visit Kim in the North Korean capital during the autumn.

Monday´s high-level talks, taking place on the northern side of the truce village in the Demilitarised Zone, were proposed by the North last week as it lashed out at Washington for pushing ahead with sanctions.

“As the Pyongyang meeting of the leaders of the north and south is being discussed, I think talking about the issue will provide answers to the wishes of the people,” the North’s chief delegate Ri Son Gwon said in his opening statement.

Using a proverb describing a very intimate friend to refer to inter-Korean ties, Ri added: “We have opened an era where we are advancing hand in hand rather than standing in each other’s way.”

Despite the rapprochement, international sanctions against the North for its nuclear and missile programmes have kept economic cooperation between the two Koreas from taking off, while little progress has been made on the key issue of Pyongyang´s denuclearisation.

South Korea’s Unification Minister Cho Myoung-gyon, leading the delegation from Seoul, said it was important that the two Koreas keep “the same mind”.

“Many issues will be raised (at the meeting), but I think any problem can be resolved with that mindset,” Cho added.

Rapid rapprochement 

The two Koreas have informally agreed the summit will take place in Pyongyang late this month or at the beginning of September, Yonhap News Agency reported Monday, without citing a source.

Cho addressed the possibility of Pyongyang raising the issue of sanctions to the South, and said: “We will explain our position to the North.”

The rapid rapprochement between the two neighbours that began this year paved the way for a landmark meeting between Kim and US President Donald Trump in Singapore in June.

Cross-border exchanges between the two Koreas have significantly increased since then, with the neighbours planning to hold reunions for war-separated families next week for the first time in three years.

But although Trump touted his summit with Kim as a historic breakthrough, the nuclear-armed North has since criticised Washington for its “gangster-like” demands of complete, verifiable and irreversible disarmament.

Meanwhile the US has urged the international community to maintain tough sanctions on the isolated regime — Seoul has caught three South Korean firms importing coal and iron from the North last year in violation of the measures.

Analysts say Moon could try to act as a mediator between the US and North Korea, having salvaged the Singapore meeting when Trump abruptly cancelled it.

If the third Moon-Kim summit takes place, the two are also expected to focus on hammering out a consensus on officially ending the 1950-53 Korean War, which concluded with an armistice instead of a peace treaty.

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collapses

Hundreds hurt as Spanish festival boardwalk collapses into sea

MADRID: Hundreds of people were hurt, two seriously, when a wooden platform collapsed at a seaside music festival in northwestern Spain on Sunday night, local authorities said.

There were no reports of any fatalities from the incident which the Galicia regional government said left 316 people injured at the O Marasquino festival in the town of Vigo.

Nine of them are still in the hospital and two are in the intensive care unit but their lives are not in danger, city hall said in a statement.

Vigo’s mayor Abel Caballero said the platform that collapsed just before midnight was 30 meters long and 10 meters wide.

City hall added that Pedro Saura, junior minister for public works, has ordered an investigation into the cause of the collapse.

People attending the concert said the crowd was enjoying the concert when they heard the boardwalk breaking.

“We were jumping when we heard the sound and we saw everything collapsing,” one woman told state broadcaster RTVE.

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China

Trump signs defense policy bill with watered-down China measures

FORT DRUM, New York:  US President Donald Trump signed a $716 billion defense policy bill on Monday that authorizes military spending and includes watered-down controls on US government contracts with China’s ZTE Corp and Huawei Technologies Co Ltd.

Trump signed the law at the U.S. Army’s Fort Drum base in upstate New York on his way back to Washington after a 12-day working vacation at his golf club in New Jersey. The bill was named for one of Trump’s political critics, the ailing U.S. Senator John McCain of Arizona, but he did not mention McCain’s name.

Trump said the bill “is the most significant investment in our military and our war-fighters in modern history.”

Some lawmakers wanted to use the bill to reinstate tough sanctions on ZTE to punish the company for illegally shipping products to Iran and North Korea, but the restrictions included in the final National Defense Authorization Act, or NDAA, that passed Congress were weaker than earlier versions of the bill.

Trump has lifted an earlier ban on U.S. companies selling to ZTE, allowing China’s second-largest telecommunications equipment maker to resume business and putting him at odds with both Republican and Democratic lawmakers.

Leaders of U.S. intelligence agencies have said they are concerned that ZTE, Huawei Technologies Co Ltd and some other Chinese companies are beholden to the Chinese government or Community Party, raising the risk of espionage.

The White House opposed putting stronger measures against the companies in the bill, and the measures were softened before lawmakers held their final vote.

The NDAA does strengthen the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS), which reviews proposed foreign investments to weigh whether they threaten national security. That measure was seen as targeting China.

Separately, the NDAA authorizes spending $7.6 billion for 77 F-35 Joint Strike Fighter jets, made by Lockheed Martin Corp.

Prior to the ceremony Trump watched an air assault demonstration by U.S. troops at Fort Drum.

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International

Taliban militants overrun Afghan army base, capture dozens of soldiers

KABUL: Taliban militants overran large parts of an army base in northern Afghanistan, killing at least 10 soldiers, wounding 15 and capturing dozens more in fighting over the past two days, officials said on Tuesday.

The insurgents had captured tanks and ammunition in Chenayeeha army base, in Ghormach district of Faryab province, in an offensive that began on Sunday, according to Mohammad Tahir Rahmani, head of the provincial council.

 “We have not been able to enter the base. Large parts of the base are still under the Taliban control,” Rahmani said.

Rahmani gave the casualty figures, but another provincial official added that the Taliban had captured 40 soldiers, but 30 militants had also been killed in the fighting.

The Taliban attack in the north coincided with clashes in southeastern province of Ghazni, which lies on the main highway linking Kabul with the south.

Hundreds of people have been killed or wounded during clashes there since last week, and hard-pressed Afghan forces received air support from U.S. forces.

Residents who had fled the Ghazni city, the provincial capital, reported that the Taliban had cut telecommunications, electricity and water supplies, hospitals were running out medical supplies, while shops, homes and some government buildings had been destroyed.

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