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Archive for the ‘Iberian Land of Spain’ Category

A look at alleged raiders of North Korean Embassy in Madrid

March 27, 2019

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — The 10 people who allegedly raided the North Korean Embassy in Madrid last month belong to a mysterious dissident organization that styles itself as a government-in-exile dedicated to toppling the ruling Kim family dynasty in North Korea.

Their leader appears to be a Yale-educated human rights activist who was once jailed in China while trying to rescue North Korean defectors living in hiding, according to activists and defectors. Details have begun trickling out about the raid after a Spanish judge lifted a secrecy order Tuesday and said an investigation of what happened on Feb. 22 uncovered evidence that “a criminal organization” shackled and gagged embassy staff before escaping with computers, hard drives and documents. A U.S. official said the group is named Cheollima Civil Defense, a little-known organization that recently called for international solidarity in the fight against dictatorship in North Korea.

Here’s a look at the group and its apparent leader.

THE GROUP

Details about the creation of the Cheollima Civil Defense group are hazy. The word “Cheollima” — spelled “Chollima” in the North — refers to a mythical winged horse that the government often uses in its propaganda.

In March 2017 the group said it had arranged the escape of Kim Han Sol, the son of Kim Jong Nam, the half brother of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un who was assassinated at a Malaysian airport earlier that year.

A man claiming to be Kim Han Sol appeared in a YouTube video at the time and said he was safely with his mother and sister.

“My name is Kim Han Sol from North Korea, part of the Kim family,” the man said in English in the 40-second video clip. “My father has been killed a few days ago.”

Recently the group declared on what appears to be its website the establishment of “Free Joseon,” which it described as “a provisional government” that would fight against “the criminal incumbents of the north.” The Joseon Dynasty ruled the Korean Peninsula for more than 500 years until 1910, when Japan colonized Korea, which was later divided at the end of World War II.

The group also recently posted a video showing an unidentified man destroying glass-encased portraits of North Korea’s two late leaders. South Korean media reported that the group was behind the writing of “Let’s topple Kim Jong Un,” the current North Korean leader, on the wall of the North Korean Embassy in Malaysia.

After the Spanish judge released documents about the Feb. 22 incident, the Cheollima website said it had been responding to an urgent situation at the embassy and was invited onto the property, and that “no one was gagged or beaten.” The group said there were “no other governments involved with or aware of our activity until after the event.”

The Spanish court report said the intruders urged North Korea’s only accredited diplomat in Spain, So Yun Sok, to defect.

The Cheollima website said the group shared “certain information of enormous potential value” with the FBI, under mutually agreed terms of confidentiality.

The FBI said its standard practice is to neither confirm nor deny the existence of investigations.

If Cheollima was behind the embassy break-in, it indicates the involvement of North Korean defectors who have experience working for North Korea’s military or security authorities, said Nam Sung Wook, a former president of the Institute for National Security Strategy, a think tank affiliated with South Korea’s main spy agency.

“There are many young North Korean men who come to the South with more than 10 years of military experience,” said Nam, who now teaches at Korea University in South Korea. “People would be surprised at what they are capable of doing, and they aren’t always being closely watched by the South Korean government.”

THE ALLEGED LEADER

A Spanish court document identified the leader of the group that entered the embassy as Adrian Hong Chang.

This is likely to be Adrian Hong, who in 2005 co-founded Liberty in North Korea (LiNK), an international activist group devoted to rescuing North Korean refugees, according to North Korean defectors and activists who spoke with The Associated Press.

Hannah Song, CEO of LiNK, said Hong has had no involvement with the organization for more than 10 years. “We have no knowledge of his recent activities,” Song said.

The Spanish judge, Jose de la Mata, described Adrian Hong Chang as a Mexican national and resident of the United States. According to the Spanish court report, the man flew to the United States on Feb. 23, got in touch with the FBI and offered to share material and videos. The report didn’t say what type of information the items contained or whether the FBI accepted the offer.

An online message by AP to a verified Twitter account linked to activist Adrian Hong wasn’t immediately answered.

Hong is known for his work helping North Koreans flee their homeland and resettle in South Korea and elsewhere. LiNK said it has helped more than 1,000 North Koreans reach safety. Fellow activists and North Korean defectors said Hong was detained in China briefly in the 2000s because of his work.

Kang Chol-hwan, a prominent North Korean defector-turned-activist, said he was close to Hong and helped him with LiNK.

Kang, an ex-inmate of North Korea’s notorious Yodok prison camp, said Hong became passionate about North Korean human rights after reading his detention memoir. He said Hong visited Seoul and rallied against what he believed were pro-North Korea sympathizers and those silent on North Korean human rights issues.

Kang, who said he last saw Hong about five years ago, said Hong wanted to “muster anti-government forces (in North Korea) and bring down North Korea from the inside.” Kang said Hong even went to Libya to study the fall of dictator Moammar Gadhafi so he could explore ways to topple the Kim government.

“He has great capacity for organization because of his experience establishing LiNK,” Kang said. “He’s a very smart guy.”

Fellow defector-turned-activist Heu Kang Il, who met Hong around 2005, recalled him as a “passionate young man.”

Testifying before the Canadian Senate in 2016, Hong said: “North Korea is not a normal nation with the government seeking to serve and protect its citizens. It is a brutal totalitarian regime, ruled by a royal family and a class of vassals, both in tenuous concert with one another. It does not care for the welfare of its people.”

In an op-ed for The Christian Science Monitor in 2014, Hong said the international community must support “efforts to strengthen meaningful opposition and civil society in the country, training exiles to one day assume leadership positions, educating younger refugees, and creating more robust programs to help defectors adjust to life on the outside.”

“A class of Korean technocrats must be capable of stabilizing and rebuilding on a national scale,” Hong wrote.

Associated Press writer Aritz Parra in Madrid contributed to this report.

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Spanish rescuers recover dead baby, save 520 migrants at sea

October 28, 2018

MADRID (AP) — Spain’s maritime rescue service says a baby has died despite efforts by rescuers to save it after a small boat carrying migrants sunk in the Mediterranean Sea. The death came as over 500 others were rescued.

The service says Sunday that the bottom of the rubber boat gave out, tossing 56 migrants into the water when its rescue craft reached it Saturday east of the Strait of Gibraltar. Rescue workers were able to save 55 men, women and children, but could not reanimate the baby.

In all, Spanish rescue workers saved 520 people trying to cross from North Africa to Spain on Saturday. In addition, one boat with 70 migrants arrived at the Canary Islands in the Atlantic Ocean. Over 1,960 people have died trying to cross the Mediterranean to Europe this year.

Court: Doctor in Spain abducted newborn 49 years ago

October 08, 2018

MADRID (AP) — A Spanish court ruled Monday that a doctor stole a newborn child nearly five decades ago, one of the many abducted during Spain’s 20th-century dictatorship, but cleared him because the statute of limitations had expired.

The Madrid court said 85-year-old gynecologist Eduardo Vela could not be punished because one of those who were stolen, plaintiff Ines Madrigal, did not make her complaint until 2012, more than a decade after the gravest crime had taken place.

The court did find, however, that Vela was responsible for abducting Madrigal in 1969, faking her birth by her adoptive parents and forging official documents. Monday’s verdict is Spain’s first in relation to the wide-scale child trafficking that took place from the onset of the country’s Civil War in 1936 to the death of dictator Gen. Francisco Franco in 1975.

The right-wing regime waged a campaign to take away the children of poor families, prisoners or political enemies, sometimes stripping women of their newborns by lying and saying they had died during labor. The children were then given to pro-Franco families or the church, who educated the children on the regime’s ideology and on Roman Catholicism.

Vela, the director of a Madrid clinic considered to be at the epicenter of the scandal, denied the accusations during this year’s trial. Madrigal, who learned at 18 that she wasn’t living with her biological parents, argued that she couldn’t have lodged her complaint earlier because she only learned about the scheme in 2010, when her adopting mother, who died three years later, disclosed the details of what had happened at Vela’s clinic.

DNA tests confirmed the account, but Madrigal’s biological parents were never found. Madrigal, now 49, said she considered the provincial court’s verdict to be “bittersweet” and announced she would be appealing it to the country’s Supreme Court.

“I’m happy because the judges are acknowledging that there was theft, that I was taken away from my mother, but I didn’t think they would stop short of convicting him,” she told reporters, adding that “the judges should had been brave.”

Madrigal’s was the only case of “stolen babies” — as they are known in Spain — that has made it to the trial stage. Most lawsuits have been rejected in the past by courts for coming after the statute of limitations expired.

Spain only started investigating the “stolen babies” cases a decade ago, when National Court magistrate Baltasar Garzon opened a probe on the more than 30,000 children that were under the care of the regime.

Spain’s Supreme Court endorses imprisonment of ex-IMF chief

October 03, 2018

MADRID (AP) — Spain’s Supreme Court has confirmed a 4½-year prison sentence for former International Monetary Fund head Rodrigo Rato for misusing a Spanish bank’s corporate credit card. A judge of the lower court will now need to order the imprisonment in the next few days of Rato, who was IMF chief from 2004 to 2007 and previously a leading figure in Spain’s conservative Popular Party and Spanish economy minister.

The National Court last year convicted Rato of unlawful misappropriation of funds during his 2010-12 leadership of Bankia, a bank that was later bailed out. Rato had denied that the credit cards were used for irregular and undeclared expenses.

Rato received the severest sentence among the 64 defendants in the case.

Franco’s family to take charge of Spanish dictator’s remains

August 25, 2018

BARCELONA, Spain (AP) — The family of the late Spanish dictator Francisco Franco will take charge of his remains after Spain’s government has them exhumed from a mausoleum, his relatives said Saturday.

“Of course we will take charge of the remains of my grandfather,” Franco’s grandson, Francis Franco, told Spanish newspaper La Razon in an interview published Saturday. “We won’t leave them in the hands of the government.”

While criticizing the decision to exhume his grandfather, he says the family doesn’t plan to fight the legal changes that Spain’s center-left government approved Friday to have Franco’s body dug up and removed from a mausoleum the general built to honor the nation’s civil war dead.

“Spending money against the government is a waste of time,” he said. Franco led a right-wing uprising that ignited Spain’s bloody 1936-1939 civil war and deposed Spain’s democratic government. He died in 1975 and was buried in the Valley of the Fallen, a mausoleum he ordered built 50 kilometers (30 miles) northwest of Madrid. Some 34,000 people from both sides of the fighting are buried at the site, most of them never identified.

His grandson says the family will decide in the next 15 days where the remains will reside next. In addition to exhuming Franco, the government also plans to unearth and identify the 114,000-or-so victims of the civil war and the four decades of dictatorship that followed under Franco.

Spain’s center-right parties have criticized the plan by Socialist Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez’s government, saying it will stir up the political strife that tormented Spain in the last century. Supporters of the decision see it as a necessary step for the country to finally acknowledge and heal the scars left by Franco’s uprising and his authoritarian regime.

Spain sets in motion plan to dig up former dictator Franco

August 24, 2018

MADRID (AP) — Spain’s center-left government approved legal amendments Friday to make sure that the remains of former dictator Gen. Francisco Franco will be dug up and removed from a controversial national mausoleum honoring the nation’s civil war dead.

The minority Socialist government is certain that parliament will endorse the amendments, probably in a debate next month, deputy prime minister Carmen Calvo told reporters. The amendments to Spain’s Historical Memory Law of 2007 grant the government the power to exhume Franco’s body. That change aims to thwart legal efforts by Franco’s descendants and supporters to block the exhumation in the courts.

Removing Franco’s remains from the Valley of the Fallen, a mausoleum he ordered built 50 kilometers (30 miles) northwest of Madrid, would be a momentous event in Spain, which still bears social and political scars from the country’s 1936-39 civil war.

The vast Valley of the Fallen complex is most conspicuous public legacy of Franco’s rule, built by the dictator as a tribute to those killed in the war in which he deposed Spain’s democratic government.

Some 34,000 people from both sides of the fighting are buried at the site, most of them never identified. “Having Franco’s tomb (at the complex) shows a lack of respect … for the victims buried there,” Calvo said. She noted that a visiting U.N. delegation said four years ago that “democracy is incompatible with a tomb that honors the memory of Franco.”

In addition to exhuming Franco, the government also plans to unearth and identify the 114,000-or-so victims of the civil war and the four decades of dictatorship that followed under Franco, who died in 1975.

Spain’s Memory Law, which outlawed public events supporting the Franco regime, fell short of addressing the broad demands of civil war survivors and victims’ relatives for exhumations and reparations.

Franco’s descendants will be consulted and will have 15 days to say where they would like the remains to go after exhumation. If they do not reply, the government will choose a “dignified place,” Calvo said.

Francisco Martinez-Bordiu, a grandson of Franco, described the government’s exhumation plans as “barbaric,” telling Antena 3 on Friday that descendants would assess their legal options for halting it.

An exhumation of Franco’s embalmed body — possibly as early as October — would cement the government’s reformist, liberal credentials after taking power last June. Removing Franco from the mausoleum, which is owned and operated by the cultural heritage agency, a public-funded body, has long been discussed in Spain. Calvo said the government is fast-tracking the exhumation because it wants to “end a state of affairs which cannot go on any longer.”

At next Friday’s Cabinet meeting, the procedures for the exhumation will be set out, she said. The Valley of the Fallen complex includes a mausoleum and basilica in a neoclassic style and is a popular pilgrimage site for people nostalgic for the dictatorship. It has a 150-meter (500-foot)-tall cross that can be seen from far and wide.

Franco is in a tomb in the basilica’s central nave beneath a massive tombstone.

Hatton reported from Lisbon.

Leaders of Germany, Spain pledge united front on migration

August 11, 2018

BARCELONA, Spain (AP) — The leaders of Germany and Spain on Saturday promoted a shared approach to immigration into the European Union amid growing populist opposition in other EU nations to taking in more asylum-seekers.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez, meeting at a country estate in the southern region of Andalusia, advocated a “fair distribution” of migrants for EU nations. They said they will share their common vision at an EU summit next month in Austria.

“No country can be exempt from this challenge,” Merkel said at a press conference after the meeting. “The racist tendencies we are seeing, regrettably, in all member countries is something we have to fight against.”

Spain has become the primary destination for migrants attempting to reach Europe by sea in recent months. While largely welcoming, Sanchez’s Socialist government is trying to stem the flow of migrants across the Mediterranean by holding talks with Morocco, one of the main departure points now used by traffickers to cross the sea.

As part of that effort, Sanchez asked Merkel for greater financial cooperation from the EU to assist Morocco and Tunisia with migrant control programs. “We have to intensify our support for Morocco and Tunisia,” Merkel said. “They are border countries and they need our help.”

The International Organization for Migration says almost 24,000 refugees and other migrants have arrived in Spain by sea this year — nearly triple last year’s number. At least 1,500 other migrants have died so far this year in the dangerous Mediterranean crossing.

The two EU leaders had previously agreed to a deal in which Spain will take back migrants already registered there who try to enter Germany through Austria. The agreement took effect Saturday. Merkel has been seeking bilateral agreements with Spain, Greece and Italy to stop so-called “secondary” migration to Germany, an issue that nearly took down her government several months ago. Negotiations with Greece and Italy are ongoing.

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