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Posts tagged ‘Iberian Peninsula’

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.

Police clash with Catalan separatists in Barcelona

November 10, 2018

BARCELONA, Spain (AP) — Police in Barcelona have briefly clashed with Catalan separatists who are protesting a rally by Spain’s national police forces in the Mediterranean city. Catalan regional police used batons to drive back a group of separatists in the city center Saturday, stopping them from advancing toward a march by an association of Spain’s national police forces demanding higher pay.

In September, a similar protest by separatists of another march by the same national police association ended in clashes with regional security forces. The violent run-ins left 14 people injured and six arrests.

Spain has been mired in a political crisis since last year, when Catalonia’s separatist lawmakers failed in a breakaway bid. Polls and recent elections show that the wealthy northeastern region’s 7.5 million residents are roughly equally divided by the secession question.

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.

Catalan leader issues ultimatum over independence vote

October 02, 2018

MADRID (AP) — Catalan regional president Quim Torra issued an ultimatum to Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez on Tuesday over the wealthy northeastern region’s future. It was promptly rejected by the Spanish government.

Torra indicated he could deny Sanchez the votes he needs to approve the national budget in Spain’s parliament unless the government proposes by next month an independence referendum in Catalonia. Failure to get a budget passed could spell the end of Sanchez’s four-month-old administration and bring a snap election.

Torra, a leading secessionist, said in a speech in Barcelona that Catalan separatist parties won’t back Sanchez in parliament if their demand for a vote on self-determination is not met. “Our patience … is not endless,” Torra said. “If a proposal to exercise self-determination in an agreed, binding and internationally recognized way is not on the table by November, the independence movement cannot guarantee for Mr. Sanchez any kind of stability in parliament.”

Madrid rejected Torra’s demand later Tuesday. “The Spanish government does not accept ultimatums,” government spokeswoman Isabel Celaa said, urging Torra to open a dialogue between Catalans who favor independence and those who oppose it.

“The proposal that unites is coexistence, not independence,” she said. The ultimatum was aimed directly at Sanchez’s growing predicament over his center-left Socialist government’s spending plans for 2019.

The minority government holds just 84 of the 350 seats in the country’s lower house. That means it is relying on the expected support of other parties, including those supporting Catalan secession, to pass its state budget.

Catalan separatists clash with police as tensions mount

September 29, 2018

BARCELONA, Spain (AP) — Clashes between Catalan separatists and police in Barcelona left 14 people injured and led to six arrests Saturday as tensions boiled over days before the anniversary of the Spanish region’s illegal referendum on secession, which ended in violent raids by security forces.

Separatists tossed and sprayed colored powder at police officers, filling the air with a thick rainbow cloud and covering anti-riot shields and police vans. Some protesters threw eggs and other objects and engaged with the police line, which used batons to keep them back.

The clashes erupted after local Catalan police intervened to form a barrier when a separatist threw purple paint on a man who was part of another march of people in support of Spanish police demanding a pay raise. Officers used batons to keep the opposing groups apart.

There were more confrontations as the separatists tried to enter Barcelona’s main city square where 3,000 people supporting Spanish police had ended their march. Separatists shouted “Get out of here, fascists!” and “Independence!” at the Spanish police supporters, who responded by shouting “We will be victorious!” and “Our cause is just!”

Barcelona Mayor Ada Colau pleaded for peace when the first scuffles broke out. “I make a call for calm,” Colau told Catalunya Radio. “This city has always defended that everyone can exercise their rights to free speech.”

The Catalan police told The Associated Press that the six arrests were made on charges of aggressions against police officers. The investigation was continuing. One police officer was hurt, although it was not immediately clear if the officer was among the 14 people reported by health authorities as needing medical treatment. Three were taken to hospital while the others were attended to on the street.

There were ugly episodes between members of the opposing groups. An AP photographer saw a group of several people who had come to support the Spanish police being chased by a mob of around 100 separatists, some of whom tried to kick and trip the supporters before they could reach the safety of local police. Separately, a woman punched a man who supports Catalan secession in the face before police could separate them.

The pro-police march had originally planned to end in another square home to the regional and municipal government seats but 6,000 separatists, according to local police, gathered in the square to force regional authorities to alter the march’s route. Some separatists arrived the night before and camped out in the square.

“The separatists are kicking us out,” said national police officer Ibon Dominguez, who attended the march. “They are kicking the national police and Guardia Civil out of the streets of our own country.”

The police march was organized by the police association JUSAPOL, which wants Spain’s two nationwide police forces, the national police and Civil Guard, to be paid as much as Catalonia’s regional police.

JUSAPOL holds marches in cities across Spain, but Saturday’s march in Barcelona comes two days before Catalonia’s separatists plan to remember last year’s referendum on secession held by the regional government despite its prohibition by the nation’s top court.

That Oct. 1 referendum was marred when national police and Civil Guard officers clashed with voters, injuring hundreds. JUSAPOL spokesman Antonio Vazquez told Catalan television TV3 that while the march’s goal was to demand better salaries, they also wanted to support the national police and Civil Guard officers who had been ordered to dismantle the referendum.

“The national police and Civil Guard agents who acted last year were doing their duty and now they are under pressure and we have to support them,” Vazquez said. Last year’s police operation that failed to stop the referendum has become a rallying call for Catalonia’s separatists, who point to it as evidence of Spain’s mistreatment of the wealthy region that enjoys an ample degree of self-rule.

“Outrageous! They shouldn’t be here. They came here to hit us a year ago and today they want to make an homage to that. It is pathetic,” said secession supporter Montse Romero. Pro-secession lawmaker Vidal Aragones of the extreme left CUP party called the police march an “insult to the Catalan people.”

While Catalonia has seen huge political rallies take place without incident for several years, two weeks ago police had to intervene to keep apart rallies by Catalan separatists and Spanish unionists in Barcelona, the region’s capital.

Catalonia’s separatist-led government is asking Spain’s central authorities to authorize a binding vote on secession. Last year’s illegal vote led to an ineffective declaration of independence by Catalonia’s parliament that gained no international recognition and triggered a months-long takeover by central authorities.

Polls and recent elections show that the region’s 7.5 million residents are roughly equally divided by the secession question.

AP video journalist Renata Brito and AP photographer Daniel Cole contributed to this report.

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