World News (September 15, 2021)

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SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — North Korea said that it successfully tested newly developed long-range cruise missiles over the weekend, the first known testing activity in months, underscoring how the country continues to expand its military capabilities amid a stalemate in nuclear negotiations with the United States.

The state-run Korean Central News Agency reported that the missiles showed they can hit targets 930 miles away. State media published photos of a projectile being fired from a launcher truck and what looked like a missile traveling in the air.

The North hailed its new missiles as a “strategic weapon of great significance” — wording that implies they were developed with the intent to arm them with nuclear warheads.

North Korea says it needs nuclear weapons in order to deter what it claims is hostility from the U.S. and South Korea — and has long attempted to use the threat of such an arsenal to extract much-needed economic aid or otherwise apply pressure. The North and ally China faced off against South Korea and U.S.-led U.N. forces in the 1950-53 Korean War, a conflict that ended in an armistice that has yet to be replaced with a peace treaty.

The international community is bent on getting the North to abandon its nuclear arsenal and has long used a combination of the threat of sanctions and the promise of economic help to try to influence the North. But U.S.-led negotiations on the nuclear issue have been stalled since the collapse of a summit between North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and then-U.S. President Donald Trump in 2019. At that time, the Americans rejected Kim’s demand for major sanctions relief in exchange for dismantling an aging nuclear complex.

North Korea ended a yearlong pause in ballistic tests in March by firing two short-range missiles into the sea, continuing a tradition of testing new U.S. administrations to measure Washington’s response. Kim’s government has so far rejected the Biden administration’s overtures for dialogue, demanding that Washington abandon its “hostile” policies first — a reference to the U.S. maintaining sanctions and a military alliance with South Korea.

GENEVA (AP) – The United Nations drummed up millions of dollars in emergency funds from donor countries for beleaguered Afghans who could soon face widespread hunger, even as Western governments and the U.N. human rights chief voiced concerns about the Taliban’s first steps in establishing power in Afghanistan.

The first such conference on Afghanistan since the Taliban took over a month ago is testing Western governments and other big traditional donors, which want to protect Afghans from looming humanitarian disaster but also want to keep pressure on the new militant rulers to respect rights and moderate their rule.

It is feared that Afghanistan could further plunge toward famine and economic collapse after the chaos of the past month, which saw the Taliban oust the government in a lightning sweep as U.S. and NATO forces exited the 20-year war. The U.N., along with its partners, is seeking $606 million for the rest of the year to help 11 million people.

“The people of Afghanistan need a lifeline,” U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres told the conference. “After decades of war, suffering and insecurity, they face perhaps their most perilous hour. Now is the time for the international community to stand with them. And let us be clear, this conference is not simply about what we will give to the people of Afghanistan. It is about what we owe.”

He said one in three Afghans don’t know where their next meal will come from, the poverty rate is “spiraling” and basic public services were nearing collapse. A severe drought is jeopardizing the upcoming harvest, and hunger has been rising.

The U.N.’s World Food Program says Afghans are growing increasingly short of cash to buy food, the majority of which — like wheat flour — is imported. Frozen foreign exchanges and a paralyzed state budget have stripped people of the money they need, just as food and fuel prices have risen.

As with many other U.N.-led donor conferences, some countries injected more funds, others highlighted commitments already made. German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas announced plans for Germany to pour $590 million into Afghanistan and its neighboring countries, but specifics were not immediately provided. Denmark said it would give an extra $38 million, and Norway $11.5 million.

PARIS (AP) — Two French politicians kicked off their presidential campaigns, seeking to become France’s first female leader in next year’s spring election.

The far-right National Rally party’s Marine Le Pen and Paris’ Socialist mayor, Anne Hidalgo, both launched their presidential platforms in widely expected moves.

They join a burgeoning list of challengers to centrist President Emmanuel Macron. This includes battles among multiple potential candidates on the right — including another female politician Valerie Pecresse — and among the Greens.

Hidalgo, 62, mayor of the French capital since 2014, is the favorite to win the Socialist Party nomination. She launched her candidacy in the northwestern city of Rouen.

“I want all children in France to have the same opportunities I had,” she said, invoking her roots. Hidalgo is the daughter of Spanish immigrants who fled their country in search of freedom amid dictator Francisco Franco’s rule.

Le Pen, the 53-year-old leader of France’s far-right party, started her campaign in the southern city of Frejus with a pledge to defend French “liberty.” In keeping with a hard-right message that critics say has vilified Muslim communities, Le Pen promised to be tough on “parts of France that have been Talibanized.” Although she launched her candidacy earlier this year, she made 26-year-old Jordan Bardella the acting head of the party as her campaign goes into full gear.

Le Pen is also remaking her image for this election. Gone is the dark blue wardrobe that has been her trademark. She now will be donning light blue for the campaign, “to show our vision, less partisan, (reaching) higher,” Le Pen’s special councillor Philippe Olivier was quoted as saying by Le Figaro, the conservative daily.

Macron, 43, has not yet announced his re-election bid but is expected to do so. Launching a candidacy in France is a necessary formality for each presidential election.

The vote is expected to boil down to a duel between Le Pen and Macron, as it was during France’s last presidential election in 2017.

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