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29 December 2019

N. KOREA'S KIM HOLDS TOP PARTY MEETING AHEAD OF US DEADLINE 

SEOUL -- North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has convened a key meeting of top 
ruling party officials, state media said Sunday, ahead of a year-end 
deadline for Washington to shift its stance on stalled nuclear talks. 
The plenary session, which opened on Saturday, follows widespread 
speculation that Pyongyang is preparing to test an intercontinental 
ballistic missile -- as a threatened "Christmas gift" for Washington. 
Kim presided over the meeting which discussed a new "transparent, 
anti-imperialist independent stand," the official Korean Central News Agency 
(KCNA) reported. 
The ruling Workers' Party of Korea will also "discuss important matters 
arising... in the building of the state and national defense," KCNA added. 
Talks on denuclearizing the Korean peninsula have been largely deadlocked 
since the second summit between Kim and US President Donald Trump collapsed 
in Hanoi at the start of this year. 
The opening of the plenary comes a week after Kim held a meeting of top 
defense officials and discussed boosting military capabilities, and ahead of 
the leader's New Year speech on January 1, a key political set-piece in the 
isolated country. 


NETHERLANDS TO DROP 'HOLLAND' AS NICKNAME 

The Netherlands has announced to officially drop the nickname 'Holland' as 
part of a rebranding campaign. Companies, embassies, ministries and 
universities will only be able to refer to the country as 'the Netherlands' 
from January. 'Holland' refers to just two of the 12 provinces in the 
Netherlands, but the two names are often used interchangeably to describe 
the European country. 


KAZAKHSTAN JET'S BLACK BOXES SENT TO MOSCOW 

Kazakhstan observed a national day of mourning on Saturday after 12 people 
died when an airliner crashed shortly after take-off and slammed into a 
house. 
Witnesses spoke of the terrified screams of passengers as the plane came 
down on the edge of the country's biggest city Almaty on Friday, but many on 
board managed to walk away without serious injury. The jet carrying nearly 
100 passengers operated by budget carrier Bek Air was torn apart and its 
nose crushed on impact with a two-storey building just minutes after taking 
off en route to the capital Nur-Sultan. 
Kazakh authorities have launched an investigation to determine the cause of 
the disaster, and the plane's black boxes have been sent to Moscow for 
examination, according to Deputy Industry Minister Berik Kamilyev, cited by 
Russian news agencies. 
In Nur-Sultan, Kazakhstan's largest flag was at half-mast for the day of 
mourning while officials made urgent appeals for blood donations to help the 
dozens of injured survivors. Neighbouring Russia and China were among the 
countries to join the Vatican and the European Union in expressing 
condolences to the former Soviet Central Asian republic. Officials say the 
Fokker 100 plane's tail hit the tarmac twice on Friday during take-off 
before it came down and crashed into the concrete building. 
"Either this is a pilot error, or there were technical reasons," Deputy 
Prime Minister Roman Sklyar said at a press conference in Almaty on Friday. 
"The aircraft split into two parts. Most of the passengers who died were in 
the front part." 
According to Kazakh emergency authorities, the 12 dead included the pilot. 
Another 47 passengers out of the 98 people on-board were still in hospital 
on Saturday. Nine of them were children, officials said. 


SEXIST SLURS MAR TAIWAN PRESIDENTIAL ELECTIONS 

TAIPEI -- Taiwan has forged a reputation as Asia's most progressive 
democracy and it boasts a higher proportion of women in parliament than 
anywhere else in the region -- yet misogynistic insults have littered its 
presidential race. 
The campaign for the January 11 polls has exposed an undercurrent where 
female politicians face a gauntlet of personal abuse and jibes that their 
male counterparts rarely suffer. 
The island's most prominent female politician is President Tsai Ing-wen, 63, 
who is seeking a second term. 
She has once again faced insults based on her gender, much of it focused on 
the fact she is not married and does not have children. 
Wu Den-yih, chairman of the opposition Kuomintang party, earlier this month 
used a Taiwanese slang term to dub Tsai "an unlucky woman" who had brought 
misfortune to her people. 
And her presidential opponent Han Kuo-yu, 62, invoked two characters from an 
ancient Chinese erotic novel to describe Tsai's rivalry with her running 
mate. 
Han's running mate Chang San-cheng also said Tsai could not understand the 
hearts of parents because she was "a woman who has never given birth." 
In a Facebook post, Tsai hit out at the campaign rhetoric. 
"I find such a political culture unacceptable and we will not accept any 
personal attacks against women using such language," she wrote. 
Wu later apologized, saying he respected women and meant to criticise Tsai's 
job performance. 


ALGERIAN PRESIDENT NAMES EX-DIPLOMAT AS PRIME MINISTER 

Algeria's President Abdelmadjid Tebboune on Saturday named a university 
professor and former diplomat as Prime Minister as he builds a new 
government to handle political unrest and a looming economic challenge. 
Abdelaziz Djerad, 65, served in the administration of a previous President 
in the 1990s, but was sidelined by President Abdelaziz Bouteflika, who was 
ousted in April after two decades as head of state. 
The massive street protest movement that prompted Mr. Bouteflika to step 
down regarded Mr. Tebboune's election this month as illegitimate and it 
seems unlikely to accept any government he appoints. 
The protesters rejected any election that took place while the military 
stayed involved in politics and Bouteflika-era figures retained powerful 
positions. 


AT LEAST 90 PEOPLE KILLED IN MOGADISHU BLAST 

At least 90 people were killed and dozens were wounded when a bomb-laden 
vehicle exploded at a bustling checkpoint in the Somali capital Mogadishu on 
Saturday, an international organisation working in the country said, in one 
of the most deadly recent attacks. 
The dead included many students and two Turkish nationals, the Somali 
Foreign Minister said. Rescuers carried bodies past the twisted wreckage of 
a vehicle and a minibus taxi smeared with blood. 
A report by the international organisation, which did not want to be named, 
said the death toll was more than 90. A Somali MP also tweeted that he had 
been told the toll stands at more than 90, including 17 police officers. 
Abdikadir Abdirahman Haji Aden, founder of Aamin ambulances, told Reuters 
that dozens of people were also wounded. 
No one immediately claimed responsibility for the blast. 


VIOLENT CLASHES IN NEW ROUND OF CHILE PROTESTS 

Thousands of protesters clashed with police on Friday in Santiago in a fresh 
round of anti-government demonstrations that erupted more than two months 
ago in Chile. 
The rally took place in the Plaza Italia, which has since October 18 become 
the epicentre of massive citizen protests against President Sebastian 
Pinera's right-wing government. Police entered the square in mid-afternoon 
and dispersed demonstrators with water cannon and tear gas. But after almost 
two hours of confrontations, thousands of protesters finally occupied the 
plaza, according to AFP reporters. "We are going to continue in the struggle 
until Pinera gives in to the people's demands," said Luis Rojas, 46. 
Authorities have been trying to restore calm in downtown Santiago, which has 
been roiled by a crisis that initially erupted over metro fare hikes but 
quickly escalated into the most severe outbreak of social unrest since the 
end of the dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet nearly 30 years ago. Chileans 
have taken to the streets to register their anger over inequality and 
particularly to vent at the elites that control much of the country's 
wealth. 
Friday's demonstration occurred the same day Mr. Pinera signed a decree 
calling for a plebiscite on April 26 to decide whether to replace the 
current constitution, which dates back to Pinochet's rule. 


US SAW HIGHEST NUMBER OF MASS KILLINGS ON RECORD IN 2019, DATABASE REVEALS 

The US suffered more mass killings in 2019 than any year on record, 
according to researchers. 
A database compiled by the Associated Press (AP), USA Today and Northeastern 
University recorded 41 incidents and a total of 211 deaths. 
Mass killings are defined as four or more people being killed in the same 
incident, excluding the perpetrator. 
Among the deadliest in 2019 were the killings of 12 people in Virginia Beach 
in May and 22 in El Paso in August. 
Of the 41 cases in 2019, 33 involved firearms, researchers said. California 
had the highest number of mass killings per state, with eight. 
The database has been tracking mass killings in the US since 2006, but 
research going back to the 1970s did not not reveal a year with more mass 
killings, AP reported. The year with the second-highest number of mass 
killings was 2006, with 38. 
Though 2019 had the highest number of incidents, the death toll of 211 was 
eclipsed by the 224 people who died in mass killings 2017. That year saw the 
deadliest mass shooting in US history, when 59 people were gunned down at a 
festival in Las Vegas. 
Many mass killings in the US fail to make headlines because they involve 
family disputes, drug deals or gang violence, and don't spill into public 
places, the researchers said. 


NEWLY FACE-LIFTED BIG BEN WILL RING IN LONDON NEW YEAR 

LONDON -- Britain's Big Ben bell in parliament's landmark clock tower will 
ring at midnight on New Year's Eve, marking the start of a year for the 
first time since its new face was revealed from under scaffolding halfway 
through restoration work. 
The work has seen the 96-meter-tall Elizabeth Tower, one of the most 
photographed buildings in Britain, enveloped in scaffolding for the last two 
years as the four clock dials are reglazed, ironwork repainted and 
intricately carved stonework cleaned and repaired. 
In March, part of the scaffolding was removed, showing that the clock's once 
black numerals and hands have been repainted blue, in line with what 
scientists say was its original color. 
Since restoration work began in 2017, Big Ben has been largely silenced, 
sounding only for important events. It last tolled on Remembrance Day on 
Nov. 11. 
The bell will be tested several times in the run-up to New Year's Eve, 
parliament said in a statement. 
The 4-billion-pound ($5.2 billion) restoration work is due to be completed 
in 2021. 

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