North Korea feels global pressure but not completely ostracized

SEOUL From building statues and training police in Africa to trading with India and Thailand, North Korea is managing to maintain business ties and friendly diplomatic relations with a dwindling number of Cold War-era friends.That is despite being cut off from much of the world for conducting a decade of banned rocket and nuclear tests, including the launch of a rocket last weekend that North Korea says put a satellite into space. The United States and its allies saw the launch as a missile test.Indeed, Pyongyang has been squeezed by layers of U.N. sanctions since 2006 targeting its once-lucrative arms trade and the flow of money that financed its weapons program. China, North Korea's most important ally, as well as Russia have signed up to U.N. Security Council sanctions over the missile and nuclear tests.Votes in the U.N. General Assembly over the past decade censuring Pyongyang on human rights also show ebbing global support. Thailand, which had abstained from voting on six resolutions against North Korea has since 2011 voted in favor of the three on which votes were recorded.Botswana severed diplomatic ties with North Korea in 2014, linking its decision to a U.N. report on crimes against humanity in North Korea, while Indonesia switched in 2010 from voting against North Korea human rights resolutions to abstaining, according to U.N. records.Still, the country has enjoyed consistent backing in U.N. General Assembly votes on human rights from a core group including Belarus, Cuba, Egypt, Iran, Syria, Vietnam, Zimbabwe and Venezuela, which is currently part of the 15-member Security Council, as well as from China and Russia.Much of North Korea's support is from fellow members of the Cold War-era Non-Aligned Movement, with which it trades in goods and services. Besides China, which accounts for 90 percent of its trade, North Korea's biggest trading partners in recent years include Russia, India and Thailand, according to South Korean government data through to 2014. It has imported Indian dyes and paints, Russian mineral oil and Thai rubber, and sold electronic components to India and clothes to Russia. India exported precious metals and stones worth nearly $2 million to North Korea in 2014, up from $103,000 in 2013, said a report by the U.N. Security Council's Panel of Experts on North Korea, which monitors implementation of sanctions.The report, seen by Reuters on Tuesday, said India told it the exports did not violate a ban on luxury goods entering North Korea.  STATUES AND SMUGGLINGWhen North Korea set out to forge diplomatic ties in newly independent African countries, founding leader Kim Il Sung provided financial and military support. It has also sent artists and construction engineers to Africa to build public artworks to earn revenue. A $27 million North Korea-built bronze statue called the Monument of African Renaissance that opened in 2010 in Senegal stands taller than the Statue of Liberty."In the 1950s and 1960s, North Korea made much more progress on the diplomatic front than South Korea," said Yoon Hae-joong, South Korea's ambassador to Indonesia between 2003 and 2005, describing North Korea's diplomatic relationships as mostly about form and symbolism, not substance. Last year, a report by the U.N. expert panel noted police cooperation between North Korea and Uganda, with the North Koreans providing training on the use of AK-47s and pistols.The latest report said training was continuing as of December.Uganda has abstained from voting on all nine U.N. General Assembly resolutions on North Korean human rights for which votes were counted since 2005, a record mirrored by countries including India, Ethiopia, Nigeria, Mali and Qatar.Hong Soon-kyung, a North Korean defector, said that when he worked as a counselor at Pyongyang's embassy in Bangkok during the 1990s, he imported Thai rice for his famine-stricken homeland and did business for a North Korean biometric firm, which he said was funded by a Singaporean businessman."North Korea opened up a state fingerprint firm's branch to make money out of fingerprint keys," said Hong, who also served in Pakistan, where he says he sold expensive duty-free liquor to local merchants, before defecting to the South in 2000.North Korea has 53 embassies and overseas missions, according to South Korean government data, some of which have been notorious for engaging in business, including illicit activities. Last year, Bangladesh expelled a North Korean diplomat caught smuggling $1.4 million worth of gold. (Additional reporting by James Pearson and Jee Heun Kahng in Seoul and Louis Charbonneau at the United Nations; Editing by Tony Munroe and Dean Yates)

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In Illinois homecoming, Obama calls for improved tone in U.S. politics

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. President Barack Obama paid a nostalgic visit on Wednesday to the place that launched his political career and made a renewed call for better relations between Republicans and Democrats to create a more positive tone in U.S. politics.Obama won the White House in 2008 partially on a promise to overcome partisan divides in Washington. He has called his failure to do that, seven years after taking office, a regret.On the ninth anniversary of his 2007 announcement in Springfield that he was running for president, Obama addressed Illinois lawmakers at the state Capitol where he once worked as a state senator in what he described as a collegial, friendly atmosphere."I was able to be part of that here, and yet I couldn’t translate it the way I wanted to in our politics in Washington," he said.Obama said reducing the influence of money, making it easier to vote and ending the way voting districts were drawn politically would help solve the problem. "We've got to build a better politics," he said. "When I hear voices in either party boast of their refusal to compromise as an accomplishment in and of itself, I'm not impressed."Congressional Republicans have said the Democratic president is often unwilling to work with them to pass legislation. "“The central premise of the Obama presidency was to unite the country, and that’s been an unquestionable failure,” Doug Andres, a spokesman for Republican Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives Paul Ryan, said in a statement. Obama has made clear he views Republican presidential front-runner Donald Trump's rhetoric as corrosive. Trump, who has called for a temporary ban on Muslims entering the United States, won the New Hampshire Republican primary on Tuesday as the parties hold state-by-state nominating contests for the Nov. 8 election to succeed Obama. MICROCOSMThe chamber in which Obama addressed Illinois lawmakers also became a microcosm of the challenges he was hoping to address.Democrats stood and clapped when Obama said the country was better off since he became president. Republicans stayed seated. The situation was similar to what occurred at his annual State of the Union addresses in Washington. Obama chided both sides, however, and said he believed Republicans shared some of his values even if they disagreed on how to enact them. He noted the importance of basic governance such as fixing roads and passing budgets, a reference to a crisis facing his home state. Republican Governor Bruce Rauner has refused to sign a spending plan for Illinois' 2016 fiscal year without winning Democratic concessions that would weaken collective bargaining rights for public-sector unions, impose term limits, freeze property taxes and make it harder for workers injured on the job to collect damages from their employers.Democrats, who control both of Illinois' legislative chambers, have resisted his demands, setting up a stalemate that has left the state's public universities and social-service programs starved for funding. Chicago State University, for example, last week declared a financial emergency, and furloughs have been imposed at other public universities.Obama's trip was aimed both at solidifying his legacy in a familiar place and making good on a promise to spend his last year working toward healing partisan wounds.Shortly after arriving, he stopped at a restaurant he frequented as a state senator, then shook hands with onlookers outside the Old State Capitol, where Obama announced his bid for the White House exactly nine years ago. (Additional reporting by Dave McKinney in Chicago and Roberta Rampton in Washington; Editing by Peter Cooney)

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Obama seeks funds to fight Zika; sees no cause for panic

WASHINGTON/LONDON President Barack Obama will ask the U.S. Congress for more than $1.8 billion in emergency funds to fight Zika at home and abroad and pursue a vaccine, the White House said on Monday, but he added there is no reason to panic over the mosquito-borne virus.Zika, spreading rapidly in South and Central America and the Caribbean, has been linked to severe birth defects in Brazil, and public health officials' concern is focused on pregnant women and women who may become pregnant.Obama's request to Congress includes $200 million for research, development and commercialization of new vaccines and diagnostic tests for the virus.At least 12 groups are working to develop a vaccine. On Monday, the London-based European Medicines Agency (EMA), Europe's drugs regulator, said it established an expert task force to advise companies working on Zika vaccines and medicines, mirroring similar action during the two-year-long Ebola epidemic that started in December 2013 and the pandemic flu outbreak in 2009.There are no vaccines or treatment for Zika and none even undergoing clinical studies. Most infected people either have no symptoms or develop mild ones like fever and skin rashes."The good news is this is not like Ebola; people don't die of Zika. A lot of people get it and don't even know that they have it," Obama told CBS News in an interview aired on Monday. "But there shouldn't be panic on this. This is not something where people are going to die from it. It is something we have to take seriously."Most of the money sought by Obama, who faces pressure from Republicans and some fellow Democrats to act decisively on Zika, would be spent in the United States on testing, surveillance and response in affected areas, including the creation of rapid-response teams to contain outbreak clusters.At a White House briefing, Dr. Anne Schuchat, principal deputy director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said she was not expecting "large-scale amounts of serious Zika infections" in the continental United States as warmer months bring larger and more active mosquito populations."We do think it's likely that we will have limited local transmission in some of the southern states," Schuchat said. Obama's funding request to Congress includes $335 million for the U.S. Agency for International Development to support mosquito-control, maternal health and other Zika-related public health efforts in affected countries in the Americas.Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, told the White House briefing a vaccine likely would not be widely available "for a few years."Fauci said he anticipated beginning a so-called Phase 1 trial this summer for a Zika vaccine that would take about three months to test if it is safe and induces a good immune response before further studies can be conducted.The CDC said its Zika emergency operations center, with a staff of 300, has been placed on its highest level of activation, reflecting a need for accelerated preparedness for possible local virus transmission by mosquitoes in the continental United States.Some lawmakers have urged Obama to name a Zika "czar" to head U.S. efforts against the virus, but Fauci said he sees no need right now for such an appointment. MICROCEPHALY CONCERNSMuch remains unknown about Zika, including whether the virus actually causes microcephaly, a condition marked by abnormally small head size that can result in developmental problems.Brazil is investigating the potential link between Zika infections and more than 4,000 suspected cases of microcephaly. Researchers have identified evidence of Zika infection in 17 of these cases, either in the baby or in the mother, but have not confirmed that Zika can cause microcephaly.  Word that Zika can be spread by sexual transmission and blood transfusions and its discovery in saliva and urine of infected people have added to concern over the virus. The World Health Organization declared the outbreak an international health emergency on Feb. 1, citing a "strongly suspected" relationship between Zika infection in pregnancy to microcephaly.Brazil is grappling with the virus even as it prepares to host the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro in August, with tens of thousands of athletes and tourists anticipated.The U.S. Olympic Committee has told U.S. sports federations that athletes and staff concerned about their health due to Zika should consider not going to the Olympics.The message was delivered in a conference call involving USOC officials and leaders of U.S. sports federations in late January.Former Olympian Donald Anthony, president and board chairman of USA Fencing, said, "One of the things that they immediately said was, especially for women that may be pregnant or even thinking of getting pregnant, that whether you are scheduled to go to Rio or no, that you shouldn't go."At the White House, Fauci said athletes would need to make a personal decision about whether or not to skip the Olympics. (Additional reporting by Susan Heavey, Megan Cassella, Roberta Rampton and Doina Chiacu in Washington; Ben Hirschler in London, Daniel Bases and Joshua Schneyer in New York, Anthony Esposito and Felipe Iturrieta in Santiago; Writing by Will Dunham; Editing by Frances Kerry and Grant McCool)

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Wall St. set to extend selloff on global growth fears

Wall Street was set to open lower on Monday, continuing a technology-led selloff from Friday, as fears of a global economic slowdown worsening and dropping oil prices continue to rattle investors.The Nasdaq Composite that includes large-cap technology names like Alphabet, Microsoft and Facebook closed at its lowest since October 2014 on Friday. Tech stocks were again among the big losers in premarket trading on Monday."Equities are in a 'go-nowhere-fast' mode, with a downward bias in the near term," said Terry Sandven, chief equity strategist at U.S. Bank Wealth Management in Minneapolis."We need oil to stabilize to provide some confidence for investors, partly because to a degree, investors' stress is high, earnings visibility is low, and market internals continue to weaken," he said.U.S. crude oil prices fell 2.6 percent after a meeting between Saudi Arabia and Venezuela failed to reassure investors of measures to bolster prices. Demand for crude is considered a barometer for global economic health, and markets across the world have tracked the rise and fall in the price of the commodity this year.At 8:37 a.m. ET, Dow e-minis 1YMc1 were down 200 points, or 1.24 percent, with 59,345 contracts changing hands. All 30 components were down premarket, led by a 2 percent drop in IBM (IBM.N) and Nike (NKE.N). S&P 500 e-minis ESc1 were down 24.5 points, or 1.31 percent, with 379,941 contracts traded.Nasdaq 100 e-minis NQc1 were down 83.25 points, or 2.07 percent, on volume of 78,606 contracts.A mixed U.S. jobs report on Friday, with a lower-than-expected job additions in January offset by falling unemployment and higher wages, added to investors' uncertainty. Economists said the report suggested a March interest rate increase from the U.S. Federal Reserve could not be completely ruled out. But, traders expect a less than 50 percent chance of one in December, according to the CME Group's FedWatch program.Many stocks that had led on the way up in 2015 led the way down on Friday, suggesting some hedge funds may be taking a harder look at valuations.Shares of Facebook (FB.O), Amazon (AMZN.O), Netflix (NFLX.O) and Alphabet (GOOGL.O) were down between 3 percent and 4 percent premarket.Dismal sales outlooks from marquee technology names LinkedIn and Tableau Software had sent shares in the enterprise sector crashing on Friday. LinkedIn (LNKD.N), which closed down 43.6 percent on Friday, was off nearly 2.5 percent premarket. Tableau (DATA.N), which almost halved in value on Friday, was down 4 percent premarket.IT services provider Cognizant's sales forecast on Monday also added to fears that IT managers would curb spending.Cognizant (CTSH.O) dropped 7 percent to $54.45 after it forecast its slowest revenue growth in 14 years.Loews (L.N) was down 4.9 percent at $34.50 after the hotel, energy and financial services conglomerate posted a quarterly loss. (Reporting by Abhiram Nandakumar in Bengaluru; Editing by Savio D'Souza)

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More than 3,100 pregnant women in Colombia have Zika virus: government

BOGOTA More than 3,100 pregnant Colombian women are infected with the mosquito-borne Zika virus, President Juan Manuel Santos said on Saturday, as the disease continues its rapid spread across the Americas.Brazil is investigating the potential link between Zika infections and more than 4,000 suspected cases of microcephaly, a birth defect marked by an abnormally small head size that can result in developmental problems. Researchers have identified evidence of Zika infection in 17 of these cases, either in the baby or in the mother, but have not confirmed that Zika can cause microcephaly. There are so far no recorded cases of Zika-linked microcephaly in Colombia, Santos said. The government is now uncertain about a previous projection for up to 500 cases of Zika-linked microcephaly, based on data from other countries battling the disease, he said.Much remains unknown about Zika, for which there is no vaccine. An estimated 80 percent of those infected show no symptoms, and those that do have a mild illness, with a fever, rash and red eyes.There are 25,645 people infected with Zika in Colombia, Santos said during a TV broadcast with health officials. Among them are 3,177 pregnant women. "The projection is that we could end up having 600,000 cases," Santos said, adding there could be up to 1,000 cases of Guillain-Barre syndrome, a rare neurological disorder that can weaken the muscles and cause paralysis. Scientists are studying a possible link between the disorder and Zika. The Colombian government will be working across the country to fight mosquitoes - fumigating and helping families rid their homes of stagnant water, the president said. The province of Norte de Santander, along the eastern border with Venezuela, had nearly 5,000 Zika cases, the highest in the country, an epidemiological bulletin from the national health institute published on Saturday showed. That province also had the highest number of pregnant women with Zika - nearly 31 percent of total cases.Colombia's Caribbean region, which includes popular tourist destinations Cartagena and Santa Marta, had more than 11,000 cases of the virus, according to the bulletin.The government has said pregnant women with Zika are eligible to access much-restricted abortion services. Many women struggle to find abortion providers even when they meet strict legal requirements and illegal abortions are widespread. On Friday, local media reported the first abortion because of Zika infection.Colombia's health minister, Alejandro Gaviria, has said he believes three deaths are connected with Zika. (Reporting by Julia Symmes Cobb; Editing by Nick Zieminski)

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