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Mexican journalist shot dead at son's school Christmas pageant

By David Agren/The Guardian/Dec. 19, 2017

A Mexican journalist has been shot dead while he attended his son’s school Christmas pageant as attacks on the country’s press continue unabated.

Gumaro Pérez Aguilando was attending the school event in the town of Acayucan on Friday, when a pair of gunmen burst into the building and killed him in front of a classroom full of schoolchildren, witnesses told local media.

His death marked the 12th murder of a media worker in Mexico in 2017, according to the press freedom organization Reporters Without Borders (RSF). The killing puts Mexico alongside Syria as the most murderous country for journalists, according to RSF.

Pérez covered police matters for several publications and founded the news site La Voz del Sur in the violent city of Acayucan, in Veracruz state, where organized crime activities have been rife. He also worked in the communications department of the local government.

Pérez had not reported any threats against him, said Ana Laura Pérez Mendoza, president of the State Commission for the Care and Protection of Journalists.

He was third journalist murdered in the Acayucan in recent months. Cándido Ríos Vázquez, a reporter with El Diario de Acayucan, was killed with two others outside a convenience store in August, even though he was enrolled in a federal government protection program after receiving threats from a mayor in the region, according to media reports.

A month earlier, photojournalist Edwin Rivera Paz, a Honduran national, was shot and killed by gunmen on a motorcycle in Acayucan, site of a Mexican immigration processing centre. Rivera had fled Honduras earlier in the year after a colleague there was killed.

Veracruz, which stretches along Mexico’s Gulf coast, has become notorious as one of the most dangerous places in the world to work in journalism. At least 19 reporters were murdered there during the 2010-2016 administration of former governor Javier Duarte, who fled Mexico, but was brought back to face corruption accusations in court.

“It continues being the same nightmare,” said Miguel Ángel Díaz, founder of Plumas Libres, an online news site in the state capital Xalapa. “Nothing and no one protects us. Criminals have permission to do as they want.”

Despite promises of action from the authorities several high-profile killings of journalists in 2017 have brought no charges or convictions.

Miroslava Breach, who covered criminal activities in northern Chihuahua state, was shot dead in March as she drove her child to school. One of the publications she contributed to, the newspaper Norte in Ciudad Juárez, subsequently closed, with the owner citing journalist safety as a motive.

Javier Valdez, founder of the newsweekly Ríodoce in western Sinaloa state, was pulled from his car and shot in the street as he left his office in May.

Pérez’s murder comes as Mexico remains convulsed with violence. The country recorded 20,878 homicides over the first 10 months of 2017, making it the most murderous year since the government began tracking such data in 1997.

 

U.S. gives China draft proposal for tougher North Korea sanctions

By Michelle Nichols and Steve Holland /Reuters/Dec. 19, 2017

The United States has given China a draft resolution for tougher U.N. sanctions on North Korea and is hoping for a quick vote on it by the U.N. Security Council, a Western diplomat said on Tuesday.

A senior official of the Trump administration confirmed efforts were under way to negotiate a new U.N. resolution, but added that there had been no agreement.

“We’re trying to get another one,” said the official, who did not want to be identified. “They’re not there yet.”

Details of the draft given to China last week were not immediately available, but the United States is keen to step up global sanctions to pressure North Korea to give up a weapons program aimed at developing a nuclear-tipped missile capable of hitting the United States.

Among the steps it wants is a tightening of restrictions on North Korea‘s supply of refined petroleum, which is capped by previous U.N. sanctions at 2 million barrels a year.

China, which supplies most of North Korea‘s oil, has backed successive rounds of U.N. sanctions but has resisted past U.S. calls to cut off supplies to its neighbor. Its embassy in Washington and Foreign Ministry in Beijing did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Any move to curb exports of Chinese fuel to North Korea may have limited impact after China National Petroleum Corp suspended diesel and gasoline sales to its northern neighbor in June over concerns the state-owned company would not get paid.

Business has slowed steadily since then, with zero shipments of diesel, gasoline and other fuel in October. November data will be released on Monday.

The United States has also called on the U.N. Security Council to blacklist 10 ships for circumventing sanctions on North Korea, documents seen by Reuters on Tuesday showed.

The documents said vessels had been conducting ship-to-ship transfers of refined petroleum products to North Korean vessels or transporting NorthKorean coal in violation of existing U.N. sanctions.

Earlier on Tuesday, China responded to the announcement of a new U.S. national security strategy this week that branded Beijing a competitor seeking to challenge U.S. power by saying that cooperation between it and Washington would lead to a win-win outcome for both sides, but confrontation would bring mutual losses.

 

And in Canada

Canada, U.S. to co-host meeting on North Korea in Vancouver
Nuclear-armed rogue regime will be top of mind as countries meet in January

By John Paul Tasker/CBC News/Dec. 19, 2017

U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland announced Tuesday they will co-host a meeting in Vancouver next month about the increasingly erratic behaviour by a nuclear North Korea.

The two top diplomats told reporters most of the countries who fought in the 1950-53 Korean War have been invited to participate in the discussions in the B.C. city on Jan. 16, 2018. Those countries, tentatively dubbed the "Vancouver Group," are part of an aggressive diplomatic campaign designed to force the rogue regime to the negotiation table and avoid devastating military action.

"We continue to find ways to advance the pressure campaign against North Korea, and send a unified message from the international community: 'We will not accept you as a nuclear weapons nations.'

"We share one goal, full and complete and verifiable denuclearization of the Korean peninsula," Tillerson said.

He said this display of solidarity sends a message to North Korea that the rest of world is prepared to talk. "We can't talk unless North Korea is ready to talk. We're waiting for them to indicate a readiness to talk - this pressure campaign will not abate. We will not be rolling any of it back," the former Exxon Mobil CEO said.

Canada is pitching the conference as a way to jump-start diplomatic talks as the so-called six-party talks - South Korea, North Korea, the U.S., China, Japan and Russia - broke off in 2009.

"This is another visible sign that the international community is acting in concert to speak to the government of North Korea and to say this is threatening us all and the pressure will increase until the behaviour  changes," Freeland added.

When asked if this plea for talks with the regime differs from that of Trump, who has taken a hostile stance, threatening to launch military strikes if behaviour does not improve, Tillerson said he is presenting a united front with the White House. "The president's campaign has always been ... a pressure campaign of sanctions, and diplomatic pressure. The White House ... they haven't rejected diplomatic talks."

Tillerson's openness to talk comes nearly two weeks after North Korea said it had successfully tested a breakthrough intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) that put the entire United States mainland within range. In September, North Korea fired a ballistic missile over the northern Japanese island of Hokkaido, the second to fly over Japan in less than a month.

 

Tillerson highest ranking U.S. official to travel to Canada

Tillerson is the highest-ranking official in the Trump administration to visit Canada. Despite precedent in recent years, U.S. President Donald Trump did not make his first trip abroad to Canada.

Tillerson first sat down with Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland, a meeting that went some 25 minutes longer than scheduled. He then met with the cabinet committee on Canada-U.S. relations.

He later met with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and the two discussed North Korea and NAFTA, as well as Canada's ongoing trade dispute with the U.S. over softwood lumber, according to a readout of the meeting released by the Prime Minister's Office.

Tillerson and Freeland are said to have a productive working relationship as evidenced by the warm embrace the two shared as the secretary of state arrived at the Ottawa airport's VIP terminal.

"I am delighted to be in Canada, and I appreciate the above-freezing temperatures in Ottawa, I understand, so thank you for that," Tillerson joked, referencing the warmer than usual weather in the nation's capital.

"It's a very important relationship between the U.S. and Canada, a strong relationship, and we look forward to strengthening that through these talks," he said.

Freeland said global issues are top of mind, but also "some issues concerning our bilateral relationship."

Tillerson's visit comes amid uncertainty about the secretary's position in Trump's cabinet. Numerous news reports have suggested Trump is poised to dump the former Exxon Mobil chairman in favour of Mike Pompeo, the C.I.A. director.