North Korea abandons liaison office, shows signs of reverting to 'hermit kingdom'
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- North Korean officials abruptly walked out of a meeting with their South Korean counterparts in the demilitarized border zone between the two countries this morning, announcing that they were abandoning the liaison office on "instructions from the superior authority."
- The British prime minister has failed to get the three-month Brexit extension she wanted from the EU, and now faces the wrath of MPs back home.
- An online uproar has some saying author J.K. Rowling is falling prey to a need to keep her work relevant 20 years after she brought it to the world
- Missed The National last night? Watch it here.
Three weeks after the failed summit between Donald Trump and Kim Jong-un, North Korea is showing signs of turning back into the Hermit Kingdom.
This morning, North Korean officials abruptly walked out of a meeting with their South Korean counterparts in the demilitarized border zone between the two countries, announcing that they were abandoning the liaison office on "instructions from the superior authority."
The meeting house, which was set up last September in an effort to improve relations and lines of communication, will now be staffed only by the South.
No reason was given for the change of heart, but Korea analysts believe that the North is trying to pressure Seoul to help soften America's hardline stance on denuclearization.
What is clear, however, is that cross-border cooperation has basically ground to a halt.
A recent proposal from the South to start military talks has gone unanswered.
And there has been silence on a number of proposed joint-ventures, like the repatriation of the remains of soldiers who died in the Korean War, and setting up video reunions for families who have been divided since the conflict.
Ditto for a plan that was supposed to allow civilian ships to sail in the Han River estuary for the first time since 1953.
The walkout came just hours after the Trump administration imposed new sanctions on two Chinese shipping companies that it says it believes have been helping the North skirt an economic embargo.
Last month's summit in Vietnam broke down over Kim's demand that the U.S. and UN fully lift all trade restrictions as a precursor to him committing to dismantle the country's nuclear program.
There haven't been any official discussions between North Korea and the U.S. since.
In the run-up to the summit, North Korea announced that it was cutting food rations for civilians, claiming that the sanctions — and a poor harvest — have pushed the country to the brink of crisis. The World Food Program is still trying to assess just how bad the situation has become.
But the sanctions certainly don't appear to have had much of an impact on Kim himself.
Earlier this month, the UN Security Council released a report detailing his regime's extensive efforts to find workarounds, as well as its many successes, including the importation of a Rolls-Royce, and Mercedes-Benz and Lexus limousines to ferry the Supreme Leader around.
An editorial published yesterday in Rodong Sinmun, the official newspaper of Kim's ruling Korean Workers' Party, suggests that the North's position on the U.S. demands for denuclearization is hardening.
"The nation could not live without its national pride, it could not be exchanged for treasures or gold, even if we starve or freeze to death," it thundered. "Dependence can be easy and temporary, but it is like a penalty that makes the people helpless and weakens the national power."
Attempts to break the impasse might be complicated by the revelation today that the FBI have been in contact with a dissident group that staged a daring raid on North Korea's embassy in Spain last month.
Ten masked men used fake firearms to force their way into the building, then tied up staff and interrogated them before making off with a reported treasure trove of documents and computers.
The group, which calls itself Free Joseon or Cheollima Civil Defense, is calling for a revolution in the North.
Yesterday, it released a video — apparently taken inside the embassy — that shows one of its members destroying pictures of Kim's grandfather and father, while shouting "Down with Kim family rule!" It's an act that is punishable by death in the North.
Kim himself is known to be image-sensitive, as illustrated by reports today that his personal photographer has been fired and expelled from the Worker's Party for getting too close.
The man — who accompanied Kim to Vietnam — stands accused of "damaging the supreme dignity" of the party by positioning himself between the leader and an adoring crowd in a way that his camera flash obscured the dictator's already-limited neck.
Although the firing and public humiliation is kid glove treatment by the 35-year-old dictator's standards.
A recent report produced by the Seoul-based organization for North Korean defectors claims that Kim has purged 421 officials since he was named heir to his father Kim Jong Il in 2010.
Stories of his cruel tortures and extraordinary execution methods — including feeding prisoners to dogs, and roasting them alive with flamethrowers — abound. And even his closest family members receive no pity, with his uncle Jang Song-thaek reportedly having been killed by a firing squad of anti-aircraft machine guns.
Theresa May's Brexit blues
Theresa May is making friends in no places. The British prime minister has failed to get the three-month Brexit extension she wanted from the EU, and now faces the wrath of MPs back home, reporter Thomas Daigle writes from Brussels.
It was after midnight in Brussels when a war-weary Theresa May faced bleary-eyed reporters.
"Good morning," she said, eliciting a couple audible laughs in the room, but little sympathy.
The British prime minister had spent Thursday trying to persuade EU leaders to allow her country to delay its departure until June 30. Instead, they imposed a shorter timeline — effectively taking control of the Brexit date.
May and her team had been sending "a lot of conflicting signals and confusion," a full-time Brussels watcher had told me earlier in the day. Tony Connelly, the Europe editor for Ireland's public broadcaster RTE, said the result was that "the EU's position has hardened" vis-à-vis Britain and its troubled exit.
Here in the heart of the EU, it means May's negotiating power is running lower than it's ever been.
And now, as she returns to London, her position of strength toward domestic lawmakers is hardly any better.
In a televised address from the grandeur of 10 Downing Street on Wednesday night before the EU summit, she unusually framed herself as being one with the people.
"I am on your side," she told those in the country fed up with endless infighting and uncertainty. May strictly blamed MPs for the Brexit delay, leading the public to infer their elected lawmakers were the ones not on their side.
The speech was received like a declaration of war in Westminster. MPs took it to be a populist "us vs. them" rallying cry, nearly daring Britons to rise up against Parliament.
The House of Commons' speaker, John Bercow, underlined to members that they are, in fact, "not traitors."
But MPs shared horror stories of an already antagonistic British public. "Last week I received a message saying that my head should be chopped off," Labour MP Paula Sherriff told the House of Commons.
May needs the support of MPs to get her twice-defeated Brexit deal approved. Her Wednesday night intervention will not have helped.
If Parliament agrees to the withdrawal agreement, the U.K. will leave in an orderly fashion on May 22. If the deal is voted down again, the country faces another cliff and could walk off the edge as early as April 12.
In a rare act of contrition in her late-night press conference in Brussels last night, May declared she respects the views of "MPs on all sides" of the Brexit debate. She acknowledged they all "have difficult jobs to do."
That the prime minister feels the need to make that distinction speaks volumes about the toxicity of the Brexit process. It also signals that after a setback in Brussels, May could face another defeat in London.
- Thomas Daigle
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Trouble in Potterverse
An online uproar has some saying author J.K. Rowling is falling prey to a need to keep her work relevant 20 years after she brought it to the world, writes producer Tarannum Kamlani.
J.K. Rowling, creator of the Harry Potter books and writer of several spinoffs, is facing a backlash over her latest comments about the sexuality of beloved character Professor Dumbledore.
Harry Potter's mentor and Hogwarts headmaster Albus Dumbledore has not been in the news since 2007, when his creator announced during a Q&A session at Carnegie Hall that she'd always thought of Dumbledore as gay.
Back then, the revelation was received warmly.
But 12 years and two prequels later, Dumbledore and his creator set the internet aflame this week.
The sparks were the DVD and Blu-ray discs of Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald, released March 12, which include Rowling talking about Dumbledore having had an "incredibly intense" love and sexual relationship with friend-turned-enemy Gellert Grindelwald.
Some are questioning why Rowling can't leave her creation alone. You might call them the "no one asked for this" camp.
Meanwhile, some in the LGBT community are roasting Rowling for making these revelations about a central character in an add-on DVD featurette to a movie, and not in the movie itself. This is the "don't just say it — show it" camp.
There is also a fear that this controversy and Rowling's need to constantly update character backstories in the Potterverse could undermine much of what people have loved about them.
Rowling has remained engaged with her fans regarding her Potter-verse, often providing details in interviews and online posts that aren't in the books.
Which begs the question: do the people behind canonical works like the Harry Potter books, movies and spinoffs need to make sure their creations remain relevant as time marches on?
Or should Harry Potter and his friends, enemies and loved ones remain in the time and place in which they were created two decades ago, when many of the revelations about Dumbledore's sexuality would have made it hard for Rowling to have a young audience in many parts of the world, including the U.K.?
Also on the Pop Panel this week, we look at Canadian YouTube megastar Lilly Singh getting a show on NBC and what it means for the mostly male, mostly white world of late night TV.
Andrew Chang is your Pop Panel host tonight. Joining him around the table are news curation editor at Buzzfeed News Elamin Abdelmahmoud, senior editor at flare.com Ishani Nath, and freelance writer Katie Underwood.
Hope you'll join us!
- Tarannum Kamlani
WATCH: The Pop Panel tonight on The National on CBC Television and streamed online
A few words on ...
Cell euphoria … until the bill arrives.
Cyndi Bird and her tiny B.C. village of Port Clements on Haida Gwaii, population 280, are celebrating the arrival of cell service after lobbying for years to get coverage. <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/TheMoment?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#TheMoment</a> <a href="https://t.co/LB1oPgKFf4">pic.twitter.com/LB1oPgKFf4</a>—@CBCTheNational
Quote of the moment
"The government of New Zealand has swiftly and responsibly responded to the atrocities visited upon their Muslim community, by almost immediately committing to ban the type of weapons that facilitate such extreme violence. Yet here in Canada, 29 years after Polytechnique, 12 years after Dawson, four years after the murder of three Moncton RCMP officers and two years after our own massacre at a peaceful mosque in Quebec City, the Liberal are still dithering on what to do about legal assault weapons."
- Nathalie Provost, who was shot four times during the 1989 attack that killed 14 women at Montreal's École Polytechnique, takes the Trudeau government to task for failing to ban assault weapons.
What The National is reading
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Today in history
March 22, 1978: Brian Budd, soccer's athletic 'superstar'
Toronto-born Brian Budd's pro soccer career featured stints with the Vancouver Whitecaps, Toronto Blizzard and Houston Hurricanes, along with seven appearances for Canada's national team. But his greatest fame was earned in the World Superstars competitions, a staple of 1970s television. Budd triumphed over much better-known sporting figures three years in a row, taking home a total of $170,000 in prize money. Then the producers at ABC Sports created a new three-victories-and-done rule, quite possibly to stop him from winning again.
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