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Explainer: South Korea sees peace declaration as key to restarting North Korea talks

By Josh Smith

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Explainer: South Korea sees peace declaration as key to restarting North Korea talks
© Reuters. South Korean President Moon Jae-in and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un shake hands at the truce village of Panmunjom inside the demilitarized zone separating the two Koreas, South Korea, April 27, 2018. Korea Summit Press Pool/Pool via Reuters/Files

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By Josh Smith

SEOUL (Reuters) – In a last-ditch attempt to restart talks with North Korea before his term ends next year, South Korean President Moon Jae-in is calling for a declaration that could eventually end a state of war that has technically lasted since the 1950s.

South Korea and a U.S.-led U.N. force are technically still at war with North Korea since the 1950-1953 Korean War ended in an armistice rather than a peace treaty, and Seoul sees an “end of war declaration” as a way to build trust, restart stalled denuclearisation talks, and eventually secure a lasting peace agreement.

Such a declaration is seen as a less politically fraught issue than other points of contention, such as North Korea’s nuclear weapons.

But critics fear a declaration could undermine the U.S.-South Korea alliance or weaken international pressure over the North’s weapons programmes, and both Koreas have failed to follow through on previous efforts to end the war.

UNENDED WAR

In 1953, South Korean leaders opposed the idea of a truce that left the peninsula divided, and were not signatories to the armistice, which was officially signed by the commander of North Korea’s army, the U.S. commander of the U.N. Command, and the commander of the “Chinese people’s volunteers”, who were not officially claimed by Beijing at the time.

The idea of ending the war gained renewed attention in 2018 during a flurry of diplomacy between North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, then-U.S. President Donald Trump, and South Korea’s Moon.

The two Koreas agreed to declare the Korean War over by the end of that year, and Trump said the effort had his blessing if North Korea agreed to give up its nuclear arsenal.

But as disagreements over North Korea’s nuclear weapons and international sanctions dragged on, Washington and Pyongyang showed less interest and the idea stalled along with nearly all talks.

PROSPECTS FOR A DEAL

In a speech at the United Nations last month, Moon again raised the idea. North Korean officials responded that Moon’s proposals were of interest, but premature without a change in what they deemed to be hostile policies.

U.S. President Joe Biden’s administration has said it is open to negotiations without preconditions.

North Korea has rebuffed those overtures, however, saying that U.S. support for sanctions and military moves in the region suggest its talk of diplomacy hides hostile intent.

“To be effective, (a declaration) needs to be embedded in a broader process,” said John Delury, a professor at South Korea’s Yonsei University. “But signalling readiness for an end of war declaration is, at minimum, a way for the Biden administration to signal they are serious about ending the so-called hostile policy.”

When asked about the South’s proposals, White House National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan this week declined to comment on specifics. He said that the United States agreed with South Korea on the need for diplomacy, but may have a different perspective when it comes to the timing, conditions, or sequence of different steps.

Some analysts note that a deal could have implications for the roughly 28,500 U.S. troops and the U.N. command stationed in South Korea as a legacy of the war, which help secure the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) between the two Koreas.

South Korea’s plan calls for a political declaration that the Korean War is over, then a peace treaty that replaces the armistice, and finally the establishment of a broader peace regime, said Duyeon Kim, with the U.S.-based Center for a New American Security.

The Biden administration may support raising the idea of a declaration as a way to gauge North Korean attitudes but is unlikely to support anything that alters the armistice, she said.

North Korea, meanwhile, has made it clear it is not interested in a symbolic declaration.

“It would likely be interested if a declaration alters or promises to change the armistice and U.N. Command,” Kim said.

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U.S. reports first case of Omicron variant

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U.S. reports first case of Omicron variant

(Reuters) – The United States identified a first case of the new Omicron coronavirus variant in California, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said on Wednesday

For days, U.S. health officials have said the new variant -first detected in South Africa and announced on Nov. 25 – was likely already in the United States as dozens of other countries also detected its arrival.

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Dueling rallies as U.S. Supreme Court confronts abortion rights case

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Activists rally as U.S. Supreme Court hears high-stakes abortion case
© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: The United States Supreme Court in Washington, U.S., May 17, 2021. REUTERS/Evelyn Hockstein/File Photo

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By Gabriella Borter, Julia Harte and Jan Wolfe

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -Carrying signs and playing music, hundreds of people favoring and opposing abortion rights staged dueling rallies in front of the U.S. Supreme Court on Wednesday as the nine justices prepared to hear arguments in a case that could overturn the 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling that legalized abortion nationwide.

The groups stood close together and tried to yell over each other. Abortion rights activists chanted, “What do we want? Abortion access. When do we want it? Now.” Anti-abortion protesters held huge signs reading “abortion is murder,” some carrying Christian crosses and others playing Christian music.

The justices will consider Mississippi’s bid to revive a Republican-backed 2018 state law, blocked by lower courts, banning abortion at 15 weeks of pregnancy.

Jen Rudolph, 52, and her daughter Ella, 17, drove four hours from Raleigh, North Carolina, to join the rally for abortion rights.

“We’re here to be part of this crowd and support Roe v. Wade,” Jen Rudolph said. “Republicans get abortions, Democrats get abortions. It’s a healthcare right.”

J.C. Carpenter, 49, drove from Marysville, California, to voice her opposition to abortion.

“I think Roe needs to be abolished. It was one of the biggest mistakes our country ever made,” Carpenter said. “I am feeling optimistic,” she added.

At noon, about 60 pro-choice activists will engage in an act of “civil disobedience” outside the courthouse, according to one of the participants, Heidi Sieck, the CEO and co-founder of #VOTEPROCHOICE, a voter mobilization project dedicated to electing candidates who support abortion access.

Sieck said the group will “engage in radical self-expression” with signs, songs and costumes, and that they plan to sit in the streets until forced to move, which could run afoul of local laws against blocking city streets to traffic.

“If that does include an arrest, so be it,” Sieck said on Tuesday.

The fact that the court, which has a 6-3 conservative majority, agreed to hear the Mississippi case does “not bode well” for advocates of abortion rights, Sieck said.

Anti-abortion activists rallying outside the Supreme Court on Wednesday also expected the justices to limit abortion access.

“The fact that four justices decided to even hear the case tells you that they want to do something about abortion and Roe v. Wade, whether that means a full overturn or some kind of degrading of it,” said Mark Harrington, the president of anti-abortion group Created Equal, in an interview on Tuesday.

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Deadly Michigan school shooting baffles police as young suspect stays silent

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Deadly Michigan school shooting baffles police as young suspect stays silent
© Reuters. Emergency personnel respond to the scene of a deadly shooting where at least three were killed and six were wounded at a high school in Oxford, Michigan, about 35 miles (55 km) north of Detroit, U.S., November 30, 2021. REUTERS/Seth Herald

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By Steve Gorman and Brendan O’Brien

(Reuters) -Investigators were reviewing video and reading the writings of a 15-year-old boy on Wednesday as they sought clues to what drove him to go on a deadly shooting spree at his high school north of Detroit, where he killed four fellow students.

The suspect, whose name was withheld by officials because he is a minor, opened fire on Tuesday http://reuters.com/world/us/least-4-hurt-shooting-michigan-high-school-suspect-custody-report-2021-11-30 with a handgun his father had purchased four days earlier, killing three students in Oxford, Michigan, about 40 miles (65 km) from Detroit.

Tate Myre, 16, died in a patrol car en route to a hospital. Hanna St. Julian, 14 and Madisyn Baldwin, 17, also died on Tuesday. A fourth student, 17-year-old Justin Shilling, died on Wednesday, the Detroit News reported.

A teacher and six other students were wounded, some critically, authorities said.

By Wednesday morning, more than 50,000 people had signed an online petition to rename the school’s stadium after Myre, who was a member of Oxford High’s football team, saying he tried to disarm the shooter.

“Tate is not just a hero to his fellow students at Oxford high school but a legend, his act of bravery should be remembered forever and passed down through generations,” the petition on Change.org said.

The shooting spree was the deadliest on U.S. school property this year, according to Education Week. It was the latest in a decades-long string of deadly American school shootings that will likely fuel debates about gun control and mental health care.

Oakland County Sheriff Michael Bouchard said in an interview on CNN on Wednesday that it was clear that the shooter intended to kill people.

“He was shooting people at close range, oftentimes towards the head and chest. … It’s just absolutely coldhearted murders,” he said, adding that the shooter fired at least 30 shots.

Bouchard said investigators were poring over writings of the shooter they obtained in the middle of the night that contain “some of his thoughts.” They were also watching surveillance videos of the incident.

“We can’t get the motive from the suspect that we have in custody, but we think we’ve got a path to get a lot of supportive information as to how and why this occurred,” he said.

The suspect was armed with a 9mm semi-automatic handgun his father had purchased on Nov. 26, along with three 15-round magazines. Seven live rounds remained in the gun when the youth was arrested, the sheriff said late on Tuesday.

The suspect was disarmed and taken into custody by sheriff’s deputies minutes after the shooting began. He declined to speak with investigators after his parents retained a lawyer and denied authorities permission to interview their son, Bouchard said.

“The person who’s got the most insight on motive is not talking,” the sheriff said.

Bouchard said he was unaware of any previous run-ins with law enforcement by the suspect, a high school sophomore, adding that investigators had so far seen nothing to suggest a history of disciplinary problems or threats.

He said forensic technicians were collecting evidence from the crime scene, while detectives began collecting video footage from security cameras mounted around the school and interviewing witnesses and those acquainted with the suspect.

The sheriff said a search warrant was executed at the suspect’s home in Oxford and his cellphone was seized.

SWIFT ACTION SAVED LIVES

Bouchard credited swift action by his deputies for preventing greater loss of life, saying they arrived on the scene within minutes and moved straight toward the sound of gunshots.

Officers confronted the young assailant advancing down a hallway toward them with a loaded weapon, and he put his hands over his head and surrendered, Bouchard said.

The precise sequence of events during the violence remained unclear, but police believe the student carried the weapon into school in a backpack, the sheriff said.

“The only information I have is that he came out of a bathroom with a weapon, and I don’t know where he went first,” Bouchard said.

Prosecutors will decide what charges to bring and whether the suspect should be treated as an adult or juvenile, the sheriff said.

The boy, who was unharmed, was being detained in a special cell under suicide watch at a juvenile detention center, Oakland County Executive David Coulter said.

The boy apparently “had been shooting” the gun before Tuesday’s attack and had posted pictures of the weapon and a target he was using, according to the sheriff.

(By Steve Gorman in Los Angeles and Brendan O’Brien in Chicago; Editing by Lincoln Feast and Jonathan Oatis)

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