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NKorea’s Kim orders ‘exponential’ expansion of nuke arsenal

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NKorea’s Kim orders ‘exponential’ expansion of nuke arsenal

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — North Korean leader Kim Jong Un ordered the “exponential” expansion of his country’s nuclear arsenal, the development of a more powerful intercontinental ballistic missile and the launch of its first spy satellite, state media reported Sunday, after he entered 2023 with another weapons firing following a record number of testing activities last year.

Kim’s moves are in line with the broad direction of his nuclear weapons development program as he has repeatedly vowed to boost both the quality and quantity of his arsenal to cope with what he calls U.S. hostility. Some experts say Kim’s push to produce more nukes and new weapons systems reflects his hopes to solidify his future negotiating power as he heads into prolonged tensions with the U.S. and its allies.

“They are now keen on isolating and stifling (North Korea), unprecedented in human history,” Kim said at a recently ended ruling party meeting, according to the official Korean Central News Agency. “The prevailing situation calls for making redoubled efforts to overwhelmingly beef up the military muscle.”

Kim accused South Korea of being “hell-bent on imprudent and dangerous arms build-up” and openly trumpeting its preparations for war with North Korea. That, Kim said, highlights the need to mass-produce battlefield tactical nuclear weapons and push for “an exponential increase of the country’s nuclear arsenal,” KCNA said.

Kim also set forth a task to develop another ICBM system “whose main mission is quick nuclear counterstrike,” KCNA said. It said Kim accused the United States of frequently deploying nuclear strike means in South Korea and pushing to establish a NATO-like regional military bloc.

Kim said North Korea will also launch its first military reconnaissance satellite “at the earliest date possible,” saying related preparations are in their final stages.

Tactical nuclear weapons and a military reconnaissance satellite are among Kim’s long wish list of new weaponry. Other weapons he wants include a multi-warhead missile, a more agile solid-fueled ICBM, an underwater-launched nuclear missile and a hypersonic weapon.

“Kim’s comments from the party meeting reads like an ambitious — but perhaps achievable — new year’s resolution list,” said Soo Kim, a security analyst at the California-based RAND Corporation. “It’s ambitious in that Kim consciously chose to spell out what he hopes to accomplish as we head into 2023, but it also suggests a dose of confidence on Kim’s part.”

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Last month, North Korea claimed to have performed key tests needed for the development of a new strategic weapon, a likely reference to a solid-fueled ICBM, and a spy satellite.

Kim’s identification of South Korea as an enemy and the mentioning of hostile U.S. and South Korean policies is “a reliable pretext for the regime to produce more missiles and weapons to solidify Kim’s negotiating position and concretize North Korea’s status as a nuclear weapons power,” Soo Kim said.

Some observers say North Korea wants to become a legitimate nuclear power state as a way to win the lifting of U.N. and other international sanctions and force the end of the regular U.S.-South Korean military drills that the North views as an invasion rehearsal.

“It was during his 2018 New Year’s speech that (Kim) first ordered the mass production of warheads and ballistic missiles, and he’s doubling down on that quantitative expansion goal in the coming year,” said Ankit Panda, an expert with the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

Panda said the reference to a new ICBM appears to concern a solid-propellant system, saying that “We should expect to see larger, solid propellant missiles tested soon.”

Panda said the satellite launch should take place in April. North Korea typically marks April 15, the birth anniversary of Kim’s late father and state founder, Kim Il Sung, with great fanfare and state-organized celebrations.

Outside worries about North Korea’s nuclear program have grown since the North last year approved a new law that authorized the preemptive use of nuclear weapons in a broad range of situations and openly threatened to use its nuclear weapons first.

During his speech at the party meeting, Kim reiterated that threat.

“(Kim’s report) made clear that our nuclear force considers it as the first mission to deter war and safeguard peace and stability. However, if it fails to deter, it will carry out the second mission, which will not be for defense,” KCNA said.

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The North’s increasing nuclear threats have prompted the United States and South Korea to expand their military exercises and strengthen a trilateral security cooperation involving Japan. The U.S. military has warned any nuclear attack by North Korea against the United States or its allies and partners “will result in the end of that regime.”

Earlier Sunday, South Korea’s military detected the missile launch from the North’s capital region. The Joint Chiefs of Staff said in a statement the missile traveled about 400 kilometers (250 miles) before falling into the water between the Korean Peninsula and Japan.

The Joint Chiefs of Staff called the launch “a grave provocation” that hurts peace and security on the Korean Peninsula and around the world. It said South Korea maintains a readiness to overwhelmingly deal with any provocations.

The U.S. Indo-Pacific Command said in a statement that the U.S. commitments to defend South Korea and Japan “remain ironclad.”

North Korea test-fired more than 70 missiles last year, including the three short-range ballistic missiles detected by South Korea on Saturday. The North’s testing spree indicates the country is likely emboldened by its advancing nuclear program, though whether the country has functioning nuclear missiles remains a source of outside debate.

North Korea’s state media confirmed Sunday that the country conducted the test-firings of its super-large multiple rocket launcher to test the weapon’s capability. KCNA said three shells fired from the launcher on Saturday accurately hit an island target off the country’s eastern coast. It said North Korea fired another shell from the launcher toward its eastern waters Sunday.

Kim Jong Un said the rocket launcher puts all of South Korea within striking distance and is capable of carrying a tactical nuclear warhead, according to KCNA.

Outside experts categorize weapons fired from the launcher as ballistic missiles because of their trajectories, ranges and other characteristics.

“Its recent missile launches were not technically impressive. Instead, the high volume of tests at unusual times and from various locations demonstrate that North Korea could launch different types of attack, anytime, and from many directions,” said Leif-Eric Easley, a professor at Ewha University in Seoul.

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Animosities between the rival Koreas have further deepened since early last week, when South Korea accused North Korea of flying drones across the countries’ heavily fortified border for the first time in five years and responded by sending its own drones toward the North.

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Remember last year’s Memorial Day travel jams? Chances are they will be much worse this year

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Remember last year’s Memorial Day travel jams? Chances are they will be much worse this year

The patience of Memorial Day weekend travelers was tested Thursday by widespread delays across the country, but there were relatively few canceled flights, raising hopes that airlines can handle bigger crowds expected Friday.

By early evening on the East Coast, more than 6,000 flights had been delayed Thursday, with the biggest backups at the three major airports in the New York City area and Dallas-Fort Worth International.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pasha Pidlubniak waits for a domestic flight at Miami International Airport, Thursday, May 23, 2024, in Miami. A record number of Americans are expected to travel over the 2024 Memorial Day holiday. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)

 

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Pasha Pidlubniak waits for a domestic flight at Miami International Airport, Thursday, May 23, 2024, in Miami. A record number of Americans are expected to travel over the 2024 Memorial Day holiday. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)

 

The Transportation Security Administration predicted that Friday will be the busiest day for air travel over the holiday weekend, with nearly 3 million people expected to pass through airport checkpoints. It could rival the record of 2.9 million, set on the Sunday after Thanksgiving last year.

“Airports are going to be more packed than we have seen in 20 years,” said Aixa Diaz, a spokesperson for AAA.

When they aren’t waiting out flight delays, travelers are reporting sticker shock at the prices.

At Chicago’s O’Hare Airport, Larisa Latimer of New Lenox, Illinois, said her airfare was reasonable but other expenses for a getaway to New Orleans were not.

 

 

 

 

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Motorists travel along Interstate 24 near the Interstate 40 interchange Thursday, May 23, 2024, in Nashville, Tenn. A record number of Americans are expected to hit the pavement over the 2024 Memorial Day holiday. (AP Photo/George Walker IV)

 

Motorists travel along Interstate 24 near the Interstate 40 interchange Thursday, May 23, 2024, in Nashville, Tenn. A record number of Americans are expected to hit the pavement over the 2024 Memorial Day holiday. (AP Photo/George Walker IV)

 

“I just have to make the accommodation,” she said. “The rental car is up … this year, the hotel accommodations were very unusually expensive.”

Kathy Larko of Fort Meyers, Florida, used frequent-flyer miles — and some flexible scheduling — to pay for her trip to Chicago.

“I’m really conscious of looking at the cost of the entire trip. We’re staying a little farther out than we normally would” to get a lower hotel rate, she said. “We’re also flying back a day later, because we could get cheaper miles.”

More travelers will be on the road. AAA estimates that 43.8 million people will venture at least 50 miles (80 kilometers) from home between Thursday and Monday, with 38 million of them taking vehicles.

 
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Travelers wait at a TSA checkpoint at the Los Angeles International Airport, Thursday, May 23, 2024, in Los Angeles. A record number of Americans are expected to travel over the 2024 Memorial Day holiday. (AP Photo/Ryan Sun)

 

Travelers wait at a TSA checkpoint at the Los Angeles International Airport, Thursday, May 23, 2024, in Los Angeles. A record number of Americans are expected to travel over the 2024 Memorial Day holiday. (AP Photo/Ryan Sun)

 

Airport unions are using the holiday weekend to highlight their demands.

About 100 workers who clean airplane cabins and drive trash trucks at the airport in Charlotte, North Carolina, started a 24-hour strike Thursday, demanding better pay and healthcare, according to the Service Employees International Union. About 15% of flights were delayed, but it was unclear whether the strike played any role.

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A planned strike at John F. Kennedy Airport in New York was averted, however. Teamsters Local 553, which represents about 300 workers who refuel passenger and cargo jets at JFK, said that it reached a settlement with Allied Aviation Services and called off a walkout planned for Friday.

 

 

 

 

 

 

George Ridley, 4, left, rides on a suitcase as he and his father Chris Ridley make their way through the Nashville international Airport, Thursday, May 23, 2024, in Nashville, Tenn. A record number of Americans are expected to travel over the 2024 Memorial Day holiday. (AP Photo/George Walker IV)

 

George Ridley, 4, left, rides on a suitcase as he and his father Chris Ridley make their way through the Nashville international Airport, Thursday, May 23, 2024, in Nashville, Tenn. A record number of Americans are expected to travel over the 2024 Memorial Day holiday. (AP Photo/George Walker IV)

 

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“We are happy an agreement has been reached, a need for a strike averted, and we are hopeful that the deal will be ratified by our members,” said Demos Demopoulos, the secretary-treasurer of the local.

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Associated Press video journalist Melissa Perez Winder in Chicago and Associated Press radio reporter Shelley Adler in Washington contributed to this report.

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Texas health department appoints anti-abortion OB-GYN to maternal mortality committee

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Texas health department appoints anti-abortion OB-GYN to maternal mortality committee

AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — Texas’ health department has appointed an outspoken anti-abortion OB-GYN to a committee that reviews pregnancy-related deaths as doctors have been warning that the state’s restrictive abortion ban puts women’s lives at risk.

Dr. Ingrid Skop was among the new appointees to the Texas Maternal Morality and Morbidity Review Committee announced last week by the Texas Department of State Health Services. Her term starts June 1.

The committee, which compiles data on pregnancy-related deaths, makes recommendations to the Legislature on best practices and policy changes and is expected to assess the impact of abortion laws on maternal mortality.

Skop, who has worked as an OB-GYN for over three decades, is vice president and director of medical affairs for the Charlotte Lozier Institute, an anti-abortion research group. Skop will be the committee’s rural representative.

Skop, who has worked in San Antonio for most of her career, told the Houston Chronicle that she has “often cared for women traveling long distances from rural Texas maternity deserts, including women suffering complications from abortions.”

Texas has one of the most restrictive abortion bans in the U.S., and doctors have sought clarity on the state’s medical exemption, which allows an abortion to save a woman’s life or prevent the impairment of a major bodily function. Doctors have said the exemption is too vague, making it difficult to offer life-saving care for fear of repercussions. A doctor convicted of providing an illegal abortion in Texas can face up to 99 years in prison and a $100,000 fine and lose their medical license.

Skop has said medical associations are not giving doctors the proper guidance on the matter. She has also shared more controversial views, saying during a congressional hearing in 2021 that rape or incest victims as young as 9 or 10 could carry pregnancies to term.

Texas’ abortion ban has no exemption for cases of rape or incest.

The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, which says abortion is “inherently tied to maternal health,” said in a statement that members of the Texas committee should be “unbiased, free of conflicts of interest and focused on the appropriate standards of care.” The organization noted that bias against abortion has already led to “compromised” analyses, citing a research articles co-authored by Skop and others affiliated with the Charlotte Lozier Institute.

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Earlier this year a medical journal retracted studies supported by the Charlotte Lozier Institute claiming to show harms of the abortion pill mifepristone, citing conflicts of interests by the authors and flaws in their research. Two of the studies were cited in a pivotal Texas court ruling that has threatened access to the drug.

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Michigan farmworker diagnosed with bird flu, becoming 2nd US case tied to dairy cows

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Michigan farmworker diagnosed with bird flu, becoming 2nd US case tied to dairy cows

A Michigan dairy worker has been diagnosed with bird flu — the second human case associated with an outbreak in U.S. dairy cows.

The male worker had been in contact with cows at a farm with infected animals. He experienced mild eye symptoms and has recovered, U.S. and Michigan health officials said in announcing the case Wednesday.

A nasal swab from the person tested negative for the virus, but an eye swab tested Tuesday was positive for bird flu, “indicating an eye infection,” U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention officials said.

The worker developed a “gritty feeling” in his eye earlier this month but it was a “very mild case,” said Dr. Natasha Bagdasarian, Michigan’s chief medical executive. He was not treated with oseltamivir, a medication advised for treating bird flu, she said.

The risk to the public remains low, but farmworkers exposed to infected animals are at higher risk, health officials said. They said those workers should be offered protective equipment, especially for their eyes.

Health officials say they do not know if the Michigan farmworker was wearing protective eyewear, but an investigation is continuing.

In late March, a farmworker in Texas was diagnosed in what officials called the first known instance globally of a person catching this version of bird flu from a mammal. That patient reported only eye inflammation and recovered.

Since 2020, a bird flu virus has been spreading among more animal species — including dogs, cats, skunks, bears and even seals and porpoises — in scores of countries.

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The detection in U.S. livestock earlier this year was an unexpected twist that sparked questions about food safety and whether it would start spreading among humans.

That hasn’t happened, although there’s been a steady increase of reported infections in cows. As of Wednesday, the virus had been confirmed in 51 dairy herds in nine states, according to the U.S. Agriculture Department. Fifteen of the herds were in Michigan.

The CDC’s Dr. Nirav Shah said the case was “not unexpected” and it’s possible more infections could be diagnosed in people who work around infected cows.

U.S. officials said they had tested 40 people since the first cow cases were discovered in late March. Michigan has tested 35 of them, Bagdasarian told The Associated Press in an interview.

Shah praised Michigan officials for actively monitoring farmworkers. He said health officials there have been sending daily text messages to workers exposed to infected cows asking about possible symptoms, and that the effort helped officials catch this infection. He said no other workers had reported symptoms.

That’s encouraging news, said Michael Osterholm, a University of Minnesota epidemiologist who has studied bird flu for decades. There’s no sign to date that the virus is causing flu-like illness or that it is spreading among people.

“If we had four or five people seriously ill with respiratory illness, we would be picking that up,” he said.

The virus has been found in high levels in the raw milk of infected cows, but government officials say pasteurized products sold in grocery stores are safe because heat treatment has been confirmed to kill the virus.

The new case marks the third time a person in the United States has been diagnosed with what’s known as Type A H5N1 virus. In 2022, a prison inmate in a work program picked it up while killing infected birds at a poultry farm in Montrose County, Colorado. His only symptom was fatigue, and he recovered. That predated the virus’s appearance in cows.

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The Associated Press Health and Science Department receives support from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Science and Educational Media Group. The AP is solely responsible for all content.

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