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UN Chief Ban Ki-moon urges dialogue with North Korea

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UNITED NATIONS — UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon on Thursday urged a return to talks with North Korea, during a visit to South Korea that has fuelled speculation of his presidential ambitions in his home country.

“We should find the way back to dialogue,” Ban said at a peace and security forum on the southern island of Jeju.

Tensions between North and South Korea have been running high since Pyongyang conducted a fourth nuclear test in January.

In recent weeks, the North has made repeated proposals for military talks aimed at de-escalating the situation — but the South has dismissed the offer as an “insincere” propaganda ploy.

The current administration of South Korean President Park Geun-Hye is adamant that substantive inter-Korean talks can only begin once the North makes a tangible commitment to denuclearisation.

“The rise in tensions on the Korean peninsula could cast a shadow across Northeast Asia and beyond,” Ban warned.

“I welcome all efforts to move forward. And I stand ready to personally contribute in any way that might be helpful”, he added.

Ban has actively pursued an invitation to North Korea, and such a trip had been arranged to coincide with a visit to the South last November — but the plan fell through.

Speaking to journalists in Jeju on Wednesday, Ban said the “window for a high-level dialogue” had been left open.

“I am the only one that has been maintaining a dialogue channel with Pyongyang,” he added.

A North Korea visit would offer Ban a high-profile platform should he consider throwing his hat into South Korea`s 2017 presidential race after stepping down as UN chief at the end of this year.

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Ban has declined to confirm a run at the Blue House, although on Wednesday he offered what was seen as a broad hint in that direction, saying he would “contemplate …what I should do as a South Korean citizen” after leaving the UN.

While calling for dialogue with the North, Ban also urged the international community to forcefully implement tough UN sanctions imposed on Pyongyang over its latest nuclear test.

AFP

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5 dead as gunman attacks churchgoers in Russia

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At least five people were killed and another five were injured when a gunman attacked a crowd of people leaving a church on Sunday in Russia’s southern province of Dagestan, Russian news agencies reported.

The attack occurred in the village of Kizlyar in the Muslim-majority republic of Dagestan.

Russian news agencies said the attack occurred as churchgoers celebrated Maslenitsa, a Christian holiday marking the last day before Lent according to the eastern Orthodox calendar.

CCTV footage from the site of the deadly shooting shows a man armed with a rifle gunning down two women in broad daylight.

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A bearded man clad in a black vest and camouflage pants was seen crossing the street before opening fire on two female churchgoers as they left a service in Kizlyar in the Republic of Dagestan on Sunday afternoon. A woman walking several meters from the attacker was seen rushing away as the bloodshed unfolded.

The attacker was identified as a 22-year-old man local to the region, the TASS news agency said, citing the investigative committee.

He was shot and killed by security services who were on duty nearby, TASS said, adding that a hunting rifle, bullets and a knife were discovered on his person.

Initial reports suggested all five victims were women, TASS said, citing the local branch of the interior ministry.

Agencies

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