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US Vice President Mike Pence, North Korea's nominal head of state Kim Yong Nam, and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un's younger sister Kim Yo Jong attend the Winter Olympics opening ceremony in Pyeongchang

The United States is due to announce its largest package of sanctions yet against North Korea to further pressure Pyongyang over its nuclear and missile programme, as South Korea readies itself for more talks with the North’s officials.

Tougher sanctions may jeopardise the latest detente between the two Koreas amid their preparations to create conditions appropriate to hold a summit between North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and South Korean President Moon Jae-in.

A senior US administration official, who spoke to Reuters on condition of anonymity, called the new penalties “the largest package of new sanctions against the North Korea regime,” without giving details.

US Vice President Mike Pence had hinted at such a plan two weeks ago during a stop in Tokyo that preceded his visit to South Korea for the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un said he wants to boost the “warm climate of reconciliation and dialogue” with South Korea after a high-level delegation including his sister returned from the Winter Olympics.

Last year, North Korea conducted dozens of missile launches and its sixth and largest nuclear test in defiance of United Nations sanctions. However, it has now been more than two months since its last missile test in late November.

The new US sanctions will be announced while Trump’s daughter, Ivanka, is visiting South Korea to attend a dinner with Moon and the closing ceremony of the Games. In addition to the dinner which will feature a kosher menu for Ivanka’s dietary restrictions, the Blue House has planned a small traditional Korean music performance for her delegation.

Her visit coincides with that of a sanctioned North Korean official, Kim Yong Chol, blamed for the deadly 2010 sinking of a South Korean navy ship that killed 46 sailors. His delegation will also meet with Moon.

The Blue House has said there are no official opportunities for US and North Korean officials to meet.

“RIGHT PERSON”

Kim Yong Chol is the vice-chairman of the North’s ruling Workers’ Party’s Central Committee and was previously chief of the Reconnaissance General Bureau, a top North Korean military intelligence agency which South Korea blamed for the sinking of its navy corvette the Cheonan.

North Korea has denied any involvement in the sinking.

South Korea on Friday said it approved the Winter Olympic visit by Kim Yong Chol in the pursuit of peace and asked for public understanding.

“Under current difficult circumstances, we have decided to focus on whether peace on theKorean peninsula and improvement in inter-Korean relations can be derived from dialogue with (the visiting North Korean officials), not on their past or who they are,” said Unification Ministry Baik Tae-hyun in a media briefing.

A South Korean lawmaker briefed by the country’s spy agency said on Friday that Kim was the “right person” for inter-Korean and denuclearisation talks.

“Kim Yong Chol is the top official regarding inter-Korean relations and he is being accepted (here) as the right person to discuss various issues like easing military tension, improving inter-Korean ties and denuclearisation,” said Kang Seok-ho to reporters.

Kim currently heads the United Front Department, the North’s office responsible for handling inter-Korean affairs.

PROTESTS AGAINST N.KOREA DELEGATION

South Korea‘s decision on Thursday to allow Kim, currently sanctioned by the United States and South Korea, across the border has sparked protest from family members of the dead Cheonan sailors and opposition parties.

Some 70 members from the main opposition Liberty Korea Party staged a protest in front of the presidential Blue House on Friday, demanding the government withdraw its decision.

“President Moon’s decision to accept the North’s facade of peace is a serious issue and it will go down in history as a crime eternal,” said the party in a statement.

A group of family members of those killed in the Cheonan sinking has said it will hold a press conference against the decision on Saturday.

Acknowledging public angst over Kim’s pending visit, Baik said the South’s stance that the Cheonan sinking was instigated by the North has not changed.

“However, what’s important are efforts to create actual peace on the Korean peninsula so these kind of provocations don’t occur again,” said Baik, adding the government would make “various efforts” to assuage the public’s concerns.
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Delegates attend a UN Security Council meeting on Syria at the United Nations headquarters in New York

A new wave of bombs struck Syria‘s eastern Ghouta district unabated on Friday, witnesses said, ahead of a UN Security Council vote to demand a 30-day ceasefire to end one of the deadliest bombing campaigns of the war.

For a sixth straight day, warplanes flown by government forces and their allies have pounded the densely populated enclave east of the capital, the last rebel bastion near Damascus.

The civilian casualties and devastation there are among the worst in Syria since the government captured rebel-held parts of Aleppo in intense fighting in 2016.

At least 436 people have been killed and many hundreds injured, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitoring group says. The dead include at least 99 children.

Eyes were on Moscow, and whether President Bashar al-Assad’s veto-wielding ally would support the UN Security Council’s draft ceasefire resolution, block it, or seek to water it down in a way that would let bombing go on.

Previous ceasefires have a poor record of ending fighting on the ground in Syria, and Moscow has a history of blocking Security Council measures that would harm Assad’s interests.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Moscow was ready to vote for a draft ceasefire resolution, but accused the United States and allies of refusing to amend it to include guarantees that militants would honour it, Interfax news agency reported.

Syria‘s government, with its allies Russia, Iran and Shi’ite militias, has often used the tactic of pushing rebels to surrender their strongholds after long sieges and military offensives.

Insurgents in eastern Ghouta have vowed not to accept such a fate, ruling out an evacuation of fighters, their families and other civilians of the kind that ended rebellion in Aleppo and Homs after heavy bombardment in earlier years.

“We refuse categorically any initiative that includes getting the residents out of their homes and moving them elsewhere,” Ghouta rebel factions wrote in a letter to the Security Council on Friday.

Eastern Ghouta has 400,000 people spread over a larger area than other enclaves the government has recaptured. Late on Thursday, government aircraft dropped leaflets urging civilians to depart and hand themselves over to the Syrian army, marking corridors through which they could leave safely.

Medical charities say jets have hit more than a dozen hospitals, making it near impossible to treat the wounded.

The Britain-based Observatory said government warplanes and artillery hit Douma, Zamalka, and other towns across the enclave in the early hours on Friday.

There was no immediate comment from the Syrian military.

A witness in Douma who asked not to be identified said by telephone that the early morning bombing was the most intense so far. Another resident, in the town of Hamouriyeh, said the assault had continued “like the other days”.

“Whenever the bombing stops for some moments, the civil defence vehicles go out to the targeted places. They work to remove the debris form the road,” said Bilal Abu Salah.

The Civil Defence there said its rescuers rushed to help the wounded after strikes on Hamouriyeh and Saqba. The emergency service, which operates in rebel territory, says it has pulled hundreds of people from under the rubble in recent days.

CEASEFIRE ATTEMPTS

Damascus and Moscow say they only target militants. They have said their main aim is to stop rebel shelling of the capital, and have accused insurgents in the Ghouta of holding residents as human shields.

Syrian state news agency Sana said on Friday that factions in the besieged suburbs fired a rocket and mortars at districts of Damascus, killing one person and injuring 15 others.

The army was pounding militant targets in response, it said.

Hamza Birqdar, the military spokesman for the Jaish al-Islam rebel faction, said it had thwarted nine attacks by pro-government militias trying to storm a front in the southeast of the Ghouta.

The towns and farms of the eastern Ghouta have been under government siege since 2013, with shortages of food, water and electricity that worsened last year.

The UN envoy for Syria has pleaded for a truce to prevent a “massacre”. Staffan de Mistura renewed his call on Friday to stop both the “horrific heavy bombardment” of besieged eastern Ghouta and indiscriminate mortar shelling on Damascus.

The resolution to be considered by the UN Security Council was drafted by Kuwait and Sweden, demanding “a cessation of hostilities throughout Syria for all military operations” for 30 days to allow aid deliveries and medical evacuations.

The resolution does not cover the groups Islamic State, al Qaeda and the Nusra Front, which Moscow and Damascus say they have targeted in eastern Ghouta.
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Heather Mesch (C) and her daughter Alexa place roses next to crosses placed in front of the fence of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School to commemorate the victims of the mass shooting, in Parkland, Florida

The armed sheriff’s deputy assigned to the Florida high school where 17 people were shot dead has resigned rather than face suspension after an internal investigation showed he failed to enter the school to confront the gunman during the attack, the county sheriff said on Thursday.

Deputy Scot Peterson, who was on duty and in uniform as the resource officer posted at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, was the only law enforcement officer present on Feb 14 when the rampage started, Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel said.

Peterson’s actions were caught on video during the massacre, which ranks as the second-deadliest shooting ever at a US public school, carried out by a lone gunman wielding a semiautomatic AR-15-style assault rifle.

Nikolas Cruz, a 19-year-old former student, was later arrested and charged with 17 counts of premeditated murder in the assault.

“What I saw was a deputy arrive at the west side of Building 12, take up a position and he never went in,” Israel said, referring to the building on campus where authorities said the bulk of the shooting occurred.

Israel told reporters the shooting in the Fort Lauderdale suburb of Parkland lasted six minutes, and that Peterson reached the building under attack about 90 seconds after the first shots were fired, then lingered outside for at least four minutes.

Asked what the deputy should have done, Israel replied, “Went in. Addressed the killer. Killed the killer.”

Peterson has not given a reason for why he did not enter the building, Israel said. Neither the deputy nor any representatives could immediately be reached for comment.

Israel said he had decided on the basis of his review of the video to suspend Peterson, but the deputy resigned first.

The sheriff said two other deputies have been placed on restricted duty pending an internal investigation into whether they properly handled two telephone tips, received in 2016 and 2017, warning that Cruz might be inclined to commit a school shooting.

Authorities have said that Cruz, who was expelled from Stoneman Douglas High last year for unspecified disciplinary problems, made his getaway moments after the shooting by blending in with students fleeing the school for safety.

LAW ENFORCEMENT RESPONSE UNDER SCRUTINY

Police officers arriving on the scene from the adjacent city of Coral Springs thought the gunman was still inside as they searched the building, based on a security camera video feed that they mistakenly believed was showing them real-time images but was actually footage from 20 minutes earlier.

Coral Springs Police Chief Tony Pustizzi told reporters on Thursday that the confusion stemmed from human error and a “communication failure,” not malfunctioning equipment. He insisted that the mishap did not put any lives in danger.

Still, the disclosure may help explain the time lapse between the shooting and the suspect’s arrest.

The Broward sheriff has said Cruz, after slipping away from the school, casually spent more than an hour drifting through a Walmart store and visiting two fast-food outlets before he was spotted and taken into custody without a struggle.

The shooting has renewed a national debate between proponents of gun rights, as enshrined in the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, and advocates for tougher restrictions on firearms.

High school students from Stoneman Douglas and elsewhere around the country have launched a protest and lobbying campaign demanding new curbs on assault weapons. US President Donald Trump has suggested school gun violence could be abated by arming teachers.

On Thursday, the head of the National Rifle Association, Wayne LaPierre, lashed out at gun control advocates, accusing liberal elites of politicizing the Florida mass shooting to try to attack “our firearms freedoms so they can eradicate all individual freedoms.”

The carnage also has raised questions about whether law enforcement agencies did all they could to detect and follow up on possible warning signs of last week’s gun violence in advance.

The Broward sheriff’s office received at least 18 calls for service or tips about Cruz during the past decade, and internal affairs detectives are still reviewing two of them to determine if they were properly handled, Israel said.

In one instance from February 2016, the sheriff’s office received information from a neighbor’s son that Cruz “planned to shoot up” a school, based on an Instagram post with a picture of a “juvenile with guns,” according to an agency fact sheet released to the media. A deputy subsequently determined Cruz possessed knives and a BB gun and notified a school resource officer, the document said.

In a more recent incident dated Nov 30, 2017, a caller told the sheriff’s office that Cruz was collecting guns and knives and “could be a school shooter in the making,” according to the fact sheet. The tipster, it said, advised that the weapons were kept at a friend’s house at an unknown location.

A deputy in that case referred the caller to the Palm Beach Sheriff’s Office because Cruz was said to have moved to that jurisdiction, the Broward sheriff’s office said.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation prompted widespread outrage last Friday when it said it had failed to act on a tip warning that a man, since identified as Cruz, had possessed a gun, the desire to kill and the potential to commit a school shooting.
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The striking livery, on a car with plenty of space for sponsors after the departure of some big names in recent years, revives the colour first used half a century ago by team founder Bruce McLaren

Former champions McLaren showed their true colours on Friday with a new papaya orange and blue Formula One car they hope will take them back up the starting grid after three nightmare years with Honda.

The MCL33 is the team’s first to be powered by Renault, the manufacturer whose engines took Red Bull to three race wins last season.

The striking livery, on a car with plenty of space for sponsors after the departure of some big names in recent years, revives the colour first used half a century ago by team founder Bruce McLaren.

“Looking at our new car, I feel incredibly excited — but also apprehensive,” said double world champion Fernando Alonso, who partners Belgian Stoffel Vandoorne in the lineup, in a statement.

“I know just how important this car is to the team, and I just hope that it delivers in the way we all want it to.”

McLaren, dominant in the late 1980s and early 1990s with Ayrton Senna and Alain Prost, have not won a race since 2012.

Their last title was with Lewis Hamilton, who has won three world titles since at Mercedes, in 2008 and the past three years have seen them plunge down the pecking order to ninth of the 10 teams competing in 2017.

The Honda engine’s lack of power and reliability led to McLaren announcing the split last September, a decision with some design implications.

“Making the switch had a big impact on the installation of the engine,” said technical head Tim Goss.

“The advantage of the Renault layout means that we can push the engine forwards, but then you have the compressor at the back of the engine, so you’ve got to get the outlet pipes forward without impacting the packaging.

“We had to redesign the back of the chassis, the gearbox bell-housing area, the rear suspension, and the cooling layout. That was two weeks of intense effort to get right,” he added.

McLaren face strong competition even in midfield while Mercedes have won the last four drivers’ and constructors’ championships, with Ferrari and Red Bull their closest competitors last year.

“We are humble about the challenge ahead, but feel we’ve prepared well, have a solid package that we can build upon and exploit as the season progresses, and have two excellent drivers who will make the difference in races,” said racing director Eric Boullier.

The car was due to make its track debut at a filming day in Spain on Friday before testing starts in Barcelona on Monday. The first race is in Australia on March 25