Briefing: London fire inquiry starts, doom-laden rhetoric from Pyongyang, Russian military exercises, Shkreli

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Grenfell Tower during the blaze on June 14 – Natalie Oxford
  • North Korea fired another missile that flew over Japan’s northern island of Hokkaido and landed 2,000 kilometers from Japanese shores. This is the North Korean second missile to enter Japanese air space in the last month. The first missile test triggered  even greater international sanctions which further restricted the textile industry in North Korea as well as their oil imports.
  • The Police Chief of Manila, the capital of the Philippines announced that the police force in the area of Caloocan will disband and be retrained after a series of controversial killings, including the high-profile case of 2 teenagers. This move comes after protests against President Rodrigo Duterte’s promotion of extra-judicial killings within his greater “war on drugs“.
  • An inquiry into a catastrophic high-rise fire in a landmark public housing building began with a minute’s silence for the at least 80 victims. The judicial investigation will look at how the fire could have happened and why it spread so rapidly through the 24-story Grenfell Tower block in June. The fire, in a poor corner of London’s wealthiest suburb, challenged firefighters because it spread rapidly through cladding fixed to the exterior for insulation and aesthetics. The fire — which left the tower a blackened spire on the skyline — called into question the city’s image of itself as a cosmopolitan and sophisticated metropolis and exposed the gap between rich and poor in the city and beyond, as this report in The New York Times highlighted.
  • Nato forces and political leaders in Europe were on edge ahead of Russian war games in Belarus which European analysts suspect are far larger than Moscow has revealed and which some argue could be a cover for aggressive action or the stationing of troops in the satellite republic. The “Zapad” or “West” exercises started today and are due to last until September 20. Moscow accused the West of exaggerating their size and threat.


Korean leader Kim Jong Un – You Tube
  • North Korea unleashed a fresh barrage of rhetoric in its escalating war of words with Washington, threatening to “sink” Japan and reduce the United States to “ashes and darkness”. Even by the heightened standards of the word bombs lobbed between the hermit kingdom and the most powerful country in the world, the language in response to toughened United Nations sanctions was florid: “Let’s reduce the U.S. mainland into ashes and darkness. Let’s vent our spite with mobilization of all retaliation means which have been prepared till now.” The UN Security Council approved tough new sanctions earlier this week, aiming to strangle the North Korean regime and force it into negotiations to reduce the escalation in its nuclear program.
  • Martin Shkreli, once described as the “most hated man in the world” after his pharmaceutical company hiked the price of life-saving HIV treatments, was jailed in New York after a judge said he represented a threat to society after he offered a $5,000 reward for a hair of Hillary Clinton’s head. Shkreli made what he presumably thought was a funny offer on Facebook while he was on bail on a $5 million bond following a conviction in a separate case of securities fraud. A more detailed report in The Financial Times said Shkreli had — unusually for him – apologised for the distress caused while the judge noted the Security Service had stepped up its protection of the former presidential candidate and Secretary of State, now on a book tour. The case appears to raise issues about free speech on social media and when it crosses over into threatening behavior. The Guardian reported that the judge said the threat was not protected by First Amendment rights.
  • The U.S. Government ordered the removal of anti-virus and security software from leading Russian firm Kaspersky Lab, saying it feared the widely used technology could be a threat to national security. Kaspersky, one of the top brands in the cybersecurity industry, rejected the claims by the Department of Homeland Security, saying no credible evidence had been offered that it was linked to Russian security. U.S. intelligence agencies have tracked large scale and frequent intrusions and hacking from Russia-based or influenced groups, not least attempts to influence the 2016 elections with a series of sensitive hacks. Businessman Bill Browder, who has campaigned for the Magnitsky Act which restricts business links with politically connected Russians, used his Twitter account to say it was past time that the government saw the risk from Kaspersky. Browder lined to this report from The Washington Post explaining the background to the ban on Kaspersky.
    Bill Browder Tweet: 'Finally. US bans Kaspersky anti virus software in all federal agencies amid concerns of Russian espionage
    Bill Browder Tweet about ban on Kaspersky software.

    What we’re reading and watching

  • The Washington Post reported that the latest North Korean nuclear test reshaped the mountain it was detonated underneath.
  • In a substantial piece of reporting The Guardian analyses how the laws of war are being redrawn with surgical strikes and long-range drone attacks changing the game of how war is waged.
  • WikiTribune reporter Charles Turner, who has spent time in Myanmar reporting on the lives of minorities, analyses how the Muslim Rohingya are seen as the “world’s most persecuted minority”.
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