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North Korea says it won’t participate in Tokyo Olympics due to COVID-19 concerns

North Korea said it will not participate in the Tokyo Olympics because of the coronavirus pandemic.

A website run by the North’s sports ministry said the decision was made during a national Olympic Committee meeting on March 25 where members prioritized protecting athletes from the “world public health crisis caused by COVID-19.”

South Korea’s Unification Ministry on Tuesday expressed regret over the North’s decision, saying it had hoped that the Tokyo Olympics would provide an opportunity to improve inter-Korean relations, which have declined amid a stalemate in larger nuclear negotiations between Washington and Pyongyang.

Japanese Olympic Minister Tamayo Marukawa told reporters she was still confirming details and couldn’t immediately comment on the matter.

North Korea sent 22 athletes to the 2018 Winter Olympics in South Korea, along with government officials, performance artists, journalists and a 230-member all-female cheering group.

Politics and sports

At the Pyeongchang Games, the North and South Korean athletes jointly marched under a blue map symbolizing a unified Korean Peninsula, while the red-clad North Korean cheerleaders captivated global attention.

The Koreas also fielded their first combined Olympic team in women’s ice hockey, which drew passionate support from crowds despite losing all five of its games with a combined score of 28-2.

Those games were also much about politics. The North Korean contingent included the powerful sister of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, who conveyed her brother’s desire for a summit with South Korean President Moon Jae-in, a move which helped it initiate diplomacy with South Korea and the United States.

That diplomacy has stalemated since, and North Korea’s decision to sit out the Tokyo Olympics is a setback for hopes to revive it.

WATCH | Olympic torch begins 121-day journey:

Japanese torchbearer Azusa Iwashimizu, a member of Japan’s women’s national football team, lit the Tokyo Olympic torch to begin the relay in Fukushima, Japan. 0:40

While North Korea has steadfastly claimed to be coronavirus-free, outsiders widely doubt whether the country has escaped the pandemic entirely, given its poor health infrastructure and a porous border it shares with China, its economic lifeline.

Describing its anti-virus efforts as a “matter of national existence,” North Korea has severely limited cross-border traffic, banned tourists, jetted out diplomats and mobilized health workers to quarantine tens of thousands of people who had shown symptoms.

Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga previously said he expected to invite U.S. President Joe Biden to the Olympics and was willing to meet with Kim Jong-un or his powerful sister, Kim Yo Jong, if either attended the Games. Suga, however, did not say if he will invite either of them.

Kim Jong-un in recent political speeches has pledged to bolster his nuclear deterrent in the face of U.S.-led pressure, and his government has so far rejected the Biden administration’s overture for talks, demanding that Washington abandon its “hostile” policies first.

The North ended a yearlong pause in ballistic testing activity last month by firing two short-range missiles off its eastern coast, continuing a tradition of testing new U.S. administrations with weapons demonstrations aimed at measuring Washington’s response and wresting concessions.

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Canucks’ COVID-19 situation sends chill through NHL’s North Division

The Vancouver Canucks being brought to a standstill by the COVID-19 virus makes players and coaches elsewhere in the all-Canadian North Division uneasy for that team and their own.

Sixteen of the 22 players on the Canucks’ active roster were officially on the NHL’s protocol list with Sunday’s addition of forward Marc Michaelis and defenceman Jalen Chatfield. A member of the coaching staff had also been affected.

The Canucks are off the ice at least until Tuesday and have had four games postponed because of the virus.

“It’s something that we’ve talked about all season long, is keeping it [COVID] out,” Edmonton Oilers captain Connor McDavid said Sunday. “It’s a huge part of the season, unfortunately.

“What’s happening in Vancouver is a lot more than hockey. We’re obviously hoping everyone is doing all right and families and everyone are OK, and they get healthy as quickly as possible.”

A player on the COVID-19 protocol list has not necessarily tested positive. The league requires individuals with positive tests to self-isolate for 10 days, and for close contacts to self-isolate for two weeks.

“On behalf of our entire team, I want to thank fans everywhere for their support this past week,” Canucks general manager Jim Benning said in a statement released Sunday. “Our players, coaches and their families are grateful for the messages and we all hope for a return to full health as soon as possible.”

Vancouver’s situation brings home for the rest of Canada’s NHL clubs the pitfalls of operating in a pandemic.

“It just reinforces you’ve got to do things right,” Oilers head coach Dave Tippett said.

“Try to give yourself the best chance to keep it out as you can. I think all the players are trying to do a good job, but sometimes that virus, it finds its way.

“You feel for those guys out there. Hopefully they can get through it, but it’s certainly concerning.”

The Montreal Canadiens had four games postponed, including three against the Oilers, when a pair of forwards were subject to pandemic protocols in March.

“It wasn’t our team, but it affected us a lot,” McDavid said. “It was kind of a reminder, and obviously with what’s happening with Vancouver just to how important it is to keep this thing out.”

WATCH | Rob Pizzo recaps week 11 in the NHL’s North Division:

In our weekly segment, Rob Pizzo catches you up on the week that was in the all-Canadian division in the NHL. 3:54

Habs forward Tyler Toffoli, who spent the back end of last season with the Canucks, says he’s reached out to former teammates in Vancouver.

“Just making sure they’re OK,” Toffoli said Saturday. “It’s definitely a scary situation and hopefully it doesn’t get any worse than what it is.”

Each team in the NHL is scheduled to play 56 regular-season games. The start of the 2020-21 season was delayed until January and shortened because of the pandemic.

Vancouver’s postponed game against Winnipeg on Tuesday will be the 45th pushed back by COVID-19, with the first 37 in the NHL’s three divisions in the United States.

Former teammates show concern

Winnipeg forward Adam Lowry says he’s checked up on former Jets teammate Tyler Myers, who is one of the Canucks on that team’s protocol list.

“First and foremost, we’re worried about their safety, their health and wellness,” Lowry said. “That’s the thing at the forefront. Hockey is second.

“We were all hopeful and tried to do our best to limit the possibility of this becoming a thing or this running through a team like this.

“Obviously it was a risk. Seeing how contagious the virus is and things like that, we’re just hoping that they’re near the end of the positive tests and everyone that’s kind of contracted the virus, and their family members and things like that, they make a full recovery.”


Former Canucks forward Tyler Toffoli, right, said he recently reached out to his old teammates. Vancouver defenceman Jalen Chatfield, left, was added to the NHL’s COVID-19 protocol list on Sunday. (Minas Panagiotakis/Getty Images)

Chris Tanev, who played 10 seasons in Vancouver before signing with the Calgary Flames in the off-season, says he’s also been in touch with former teammates.

“You hope everyone is OK and no one has any serious side effects or anything from testing positive or catching COVID,” Tanev said Sunday.

The Canucks were scheduled to be in Calgary on both Thursday and Saturday, but those games are in question given the scale of Vancouver’s situation.

“The league’s going to make the calls on all that, how long they shut down and if we’re going to play make up games,” Tanev said. “I think everyone is still waiting to see what happens with that.

“Thus far, the Canadian division had been pretty good. Obviously Montreal two weeks ago had their positives and now Vancouver. The restrictions are there and are in place for a reason.”

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New tsunami advisory issued after a 3rd stronger earthquake off New Zealand’s North Island

Tsunami warning sirens sounded on Friday and thousands of New Zealanders on the North Island’s east coast evacuated to higher ground after a third earthquake in less than 24 hours.

Workers, students and residents fled in areas like Northland and Bay of Plenty. Civil defence officials were on the ground to help people evacuate as authorities said tsunami waves could reach three metres above tide levels.

The third quake had a magnitude 8.1 quake that struck the Kermadec Islands, northeast of New Zealand’s North Island. This came shortly after a 7.4 magnitude earthquake in the same region.

Earlier, another large 7.2 magnitude earthquake struck about 900 kilometres away on the east of the North Island and was felt by tens of thousands of people.

New Zealand’s National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) said the first waves would arrive on New Zealand’s north shores by about 9:45 a.m. local time It said areas under threat were from the Bay of Islands to Whangarei, from Matata to Tolaga Bay including Whakatane and Opotiki, and the Great Barrier Island.

“We want everyone to take this threat seriously. Move to high ground,” Whangarei Mayor Sheryl Mai told state broadcaster TVNZ.


Warnings issued around the Pacific

Warnings were also issued for other Pacific islands, including Tonga, American Samoa, Fiji, Vanuatu, Hawaii and others, though the warning for Hawaii was later cancelled. 

There was no threat to the Canadian west coast. 

Australia issued a marine tsunami threat for Norfolk Island but said there was no threat to the mainland. Chile said it could experience a minor tsunami.

The 7.2 magnitude earthquake that struck off the east of New Zealand’s North Island was felt by more than 60,000 people across the country with many describing the shaking as “severe.” Aftershocks were still being recorded in the area.


Traffic slowly moves to high ground at Whangarei, New Zealand, after a tsunami warning was issued Friday, March 5, 2021. (Mike Dinsdale/New Zealand Herald via The Associated Press)

“People near the coast in the following areas must move immediately to the nearest high ground, out of all tsunami evacuation zones, or as far inland as possible,” NEMA said on Twitter.

“The earthquake may not have been felt in some of these areas, but evacuation should be immediate as a damaging tsunami is possible.”

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As many as 150 feared dead in India’s north after glacier breaks

As many as 150 people were feared dead in northern India after a Himalayan glacier broke and crashed into a dam early on Sunday, with floods forcing the evacuation of villages downstream.

“The actual number has not been confirmed yet,” but 100 to 150 people were feared dead, said Om Prakash, chief secretary of Uttarakhand state where the incident occurred.

A witness reported a wall of dust, rock and water as an avalanche roared down a river valley.

“It came very fast; there was no time to alert anyone,” Sanjay Singh Rana, who lives on the upper reaches of Raini village, told Reuters by phone. “I felt that even we would be swept away.”

Locals fear that people working at a nearby hydro-power project had been swept away, as well as villagers roaming near the river looking for firewood or grazing their cattle, Rana said. “We have no idea how many people are missing.”

Prime Minister Narendra Modi said he was closely monitoring the situation.

“India stands with Uttarakhand and the nation prays for everyone’s safety there,” he said on Twitter after speaking with the state chief minister.

Air force joining rescue effort

India’s air force was being readied to help with rescue operations, the federal government said, while Home Minister Amit Shah said disaster-response teams were being airlifted in to help with relief and rescue.

“All the concerned officers are working on a war footing,” Shah said on Twitter, referring to Uttarakhand by its nickname, the Hindi term for “land of the gods” — due to the numerous Hindu temples and pilgrimage centres located across the state.

The neighbouring state of Uttar Pradesh, India’s most populous, also put its riverside areas on high alert.

Footage shared by locals showed the water washing away parts of the dam as well as whatever else was in its path.

Videos on social media, which Reuters could not immediately verify, showed water surging through a small dam site, washing away construction equipment.

“The flow of the Alaknanda River beyond Nandprayag (stretch) has become normal,” Uttarakhand Chief Minister Trivendra Singh Rawat said on Twitter.

“The water level of the river is now one metre above normal but the flow is decreasing.”

Criticism of dam’s construction

Uttarakhand in the Himalayas is prone to flash floods and landslides. In June 2013, record rainfall caused devastating floods that claimed close to 6,000 lives.

That disaster was dubbed the “Himalayan tsunami” by the media due to the torrents of water unleashed in the mountainous area, which sent mud and rocks crashing down, burying homes, sweeping away buildings, roads and bridges.

Uma Bharti, India’s former water resources minister and a senior leader of Modi’s party, criticized the construction of a power project in the area.

“When I was a minister I had requested that Himalaya is a very sensitive place, so power projects should not be built on Ganga and its main tributaries,” she said on Twitter, referring to the main river that flows from the mountain.

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North Korea’s Kim threatens to expand nuclear program, citing ‘hostile’ U.S. policy

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un threatened to expand his nuclear arsenal and develop more sophisticated atomic weapons systems, saying the fate of relations with the United States depends on whether it abandons its hostile policy, state media reported Saturday.

Kim’s comments made Friday during a key meeting of the ruling party were seen as an effort to apply pressure on the incoming government of U.S. president-elect Joe Biden, who has called Kim a “thug” and has criticized his nuclear summitry with President Donald Trump.

The Korean Central News Agency said Saturday that Kim says the “key to establishing new relations between [North Korea] and the United States is whether the United States withdraws its hostile policy” from North Korea.

Kim says he won’t use his nukes unless “hostile forces” intend to use their nuclear weapons against North Korea first. But he says North Korea must further strengthen its military and nuclear capability as the danger of a U.S. invasion of North Korea increases.

Kim ordered officials to develop missiles with multiple warheads, underwater-launched nuclear missiles, spy satellites and nuclear-powered submarines.


A North Korean navy truck carries the a submarine-launched ballistic missile during a military parade in Pyongyang in April 2017. (Damir Sagolj/Reuters)

He said North Korea must also advance the precision attack capability on targets in the 15,000 kilometre-striking range, an apparent reference to the U.S. mainland, and develop the technology to manufacture smaller, lighter nuclear warheads to be mounted on long-range missiles more easily.

“Nothing would be more foolish and dangerous than not strengthening our might tirelessly and having an easygoing attitude at a time when we clearly see the enemy’s state-of-the-art weapons are being increased more than ever,” Kim said. “The reality is that we can achieve peace and prosperity on the Korean Peninsula when we constantly build up our national defence and suppress U.S. military threats.”

It’s unclear if North Korea is capable of developing such modern weapons systems. It is one of the world’s most cloistered countries, and estimates on the exact status of its nuclear and missile programs vary widely.

Kim’s comments came during the North’s ruling party congress that was convened for the first time in five years.


In this photo provided by the North Korean government, a ruling party congress is held in Pyongyang on Tuesday. (Korean Central News Agency/Korea News Service via AP)

It’s the Workers Party’s top decision-making body, and it is being held as Kim faces what appears to be the toughest moment of his nine-year rule due to the so-called triple blow to his already-fragile economy — pandemic-related border closings that have sharply reduced the North’s external trade, a spate of natural disasters last summer and U.S.-led sanctions.

During his opening-day speech at the congress, Kim called these difficulties the “worst-ever” and “unprecedented.” He also admitted his previous economic plans had failed and vowed to adopt a new five-year development plan.

Fractured diplomacy with Trump

Kim’s high-stakes nuclear diplomacy with President Donald Trump has remained stalled for nearly two years because of disputes over U.S.-led sanctions on the North.

When Kim abruptly entered talks with the U.S., he expressed his intent to negotiate not advancing nuclear arsenals in return for economic and political benefits. But as long as the diplomatic impasse prolongs, he’s openly pledged to expand the nuclear program that he calls a “powerful treasured sword” that can cope with U.S. hostility.

Some foreign experts say Kim from the beginning hadn’t any intention of fully relinquishing his bomb program and only attempted to use diplomacy with Trump as a way to weaken the sanctions and buy time to perfect his nuclear program.

WATCH | Biden says Trump’s approach to Kim like having a ‘good relationship with Hitler’:

The Democratic candidate criticized the president’s foreign policy approach to Kim Jong-un. 0:32

Months before his diplomacy with Trump began, Kim claimed to have acquired the ability to attack the American mainland with nuclear missiles following a torrid run of weapons tests in 2016-17.

But that run invited new rounds of crippling U.S.-led sanctions that impose a ban on key exports such as coal, seafood and textiles and a significant curtailing of oil imports. Kim’s state media have said those sanctions are “strangling and stifling our country” and are proof of U.S. hostility.

South Korea’s spy agency said Kim is worried about Biden who is unlikely to hold any direct meetings with him unless North Korea takes serious steps toward denuclearization.

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Kathryn Nesbitt, 2020 Assistant Referee of the Year, becomes the first woman to referee a championship match in professional men's sports in North America by officiating the 2020 MLS Cup Final.

Kathryn Nesbitt becomes 1st woman to officiate men’s championship match in North America

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Kathryn Nesbitt becomes 1st woman to officiate men's championship match in North America

Kathryn Nesbitt, 2020 Assistant Referee of the Year, becomes the first woman to referee a championship match in professional men’s sports in North America by officiating the 2020 MLS Cup Final.

CBC | Soccer News

U.S. accuses China of ‘flagrant violation’ of North Korea sanctions

The U.S. State Department on Tuesday accused China of “flagrant violation” of its obligation to enforce international sanctions on North Korea and said Washington would offer rewards of up to $ 5 million US for information about sanctions evasions.

Speaking to Washington’s Center for Strategic and International Studies think tank, Deputy Assistant Secretary for North Korea Alex Wong accused China of “seeking to undo” the United Nations sanctions regime aimed at persuading North Korea to give up its nuclear weapons.

Wong said China had continued to host at least 20,000 North Korean labourers in violation of UN bans and that in the past year the United States had observed ships carrying prohibited coal or other sanctioned goods from North Korea to China on 555 separate occasions.

“On none of these occasions did the Chinese authorities act to stop these illicit imports. Not once,” Wong said.

He noted that China currently hosted no fewer that two dozen North Korea representatives connected to Pyongyang’s weapons of mass destruction programs or banks.

He accused China of “seeking to undo the UN sanctions regime they themselves voted for in 2006, in 2009, in 2013, in 2016, and in 2017.”

“They are seeking to revive trade links and revenue transfers to the North, thereby ensuring Chinese reach into the North’s economy,” he said.

China insists it abides by UN sanctions requirements on North Korea, although it has also expressed hope, along with Russia, that an easing of those conditions could help break the deadlock in nuclear talks between Washington and Pyongyang.

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