U.S. urges Americans to avoid all overseas travel due to the coronavirus

By David Shepardson and Humeyra Pamuk

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The United States on Thursday raised its travel alert to the highest for the entire world, urging Americans not to go overseas while calling those abroad to return to the United States immediately due to the impact of the coronavirus outbreak.

“In countries where commercial departure options remain available, U.S. citizens who live in the United States should arrange for immediate return to the United States, unless they are prepared to remain abroad for an indefinite period,” the U.S. State Department said in its advisory.

It also asked Americans to have a travel plan that does not rely on the U.S. government.

“If you choose to travel internationally, your travel plans may be severely disrupted, and you may be forced to remain outside of the United States for an indefinite timeframe,” the advisory said.

Politico first reported the news ahead of the announcement.

The move comes a day after the State Department said it was suspending all routine visa services as of Wednesday in most countries worldwide due to the virus, a move that will potentially impact hundreds of thousands of people.

The coronavirus, which emerged in China late last year, has now infected over 236,000 people and killed more than 9,700, an epidemic that has stunned the world and drawn comparisons with painful periods such as World War Two, the 2008 financial crisis and the 1918 Spanish flu.

Normal life has come to a standstill pretty much across the globe with schools shut down, flights and industries halted, sports and arts events postponed and people are advised or at times forced by their governments to remain indoors to prevent the spread.

Earlier U.S. President Donald Trump had declined to confirm the plan. “We haven’t had the meeting yet,” Trump told reporters at a news conference at the White House.

(Reporting by David Shepardson, Humeyra Pamuk, Jeff Mason, Alexandra Alper and Ted Hesson; Writing by Susan Heavey and Humeyra Pamuk, Editing by Franklin Paul, Bill Berkrot and Marguerita Choy)

North Korea evades sanctions with network of overseas companies: U.N. report

FILE PHOTO - A North Korean flag flies on a mast at the Permanent Mission of North Korea in Geneva October 2, 2014. REUTERS/Denis Balibouse/File Photo

By James Pearson

(Reuters) – North Korea is evading international sanctions with a sophisticated network of overseas companies, enabled partly by its continued access to the international banking system, says a forthcoming United Nations report seen by Reuters.

North Korea is under heavy U.N. sanctions and a strict arms embargo designed to impede the development of its banned nuclear and missile programs. The U.N. panel of experts, which produced the 100-page draft report, was created to investigate reported infringements of those sanctions.

“Designated entities and banks have continued to operate in the sanctioned environment by using agents who are highly experienced and well trained in moving money, people and goods, including arms and related materiel, across borders,” the report says.

U.N. member states should “exercise heightened vigilance” over North Korean diplomats engaged in commercial activities, it says, because some may be providing financial support to illegal networks.

North Korea “is flouting sanctions through trade in prohibited goods, with evasion techniques that are increasing in scale, scope and sophistication,” the report says.

It details a previously unknown interdiction of North Korean-made military communications equipment destined for Eritrea in July last year.

The interdiction was the second time North Korean military equipment bound for Eritrea had been intercepted, indicating an ongoing arms trade between the two countries, the report said.

The seized equipment, part of an air shipment, included 45 boxes of battlefield radios and accessories, the report says.

The radios were manufactured by a Malaysia-based front company called “Glocom”, which is controlled by the Reconnaissance General Bureau, the sanctioned North Korean intelligence agency tasked with overseas operations and weapons procurement, the report says.

INTELLIGENCE AGENCY

The report identifies two North Korean trading companies which, according to an unidentified U.N. member state, are linked to sanctioned entities, including the Reconnaissance General Bureau.

The report also outlines North Korea’s use of the financial system to pay for its sanctioned operations.

“Behind these illicit activities is the continued access of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea to the international banking system,” the report says, using North Korea’s official title.

“Despite strengthened financial sanctions in 2016, the country’s networks are adapting by using greater ingenuity in accessing formal banking channels,” the report said.

In cases where financial access is more restricted, North Korean agents use bulk cash and gold to circumvent the financial system entirely, and at times use foreign citizens as middlemen and facilitators.

The report says North Korea continues to export banned minerals despite last year’s sanctions putting a cap on coal exports, a key source of hard currency for the state’s nuclear and missile programs.

China has said it would ban coal imports from North Korea until the end of the year. On Thursday, North Korea issued a rare reproach of China, its main diplomatic backer, over the ban.

The U.N. report says enforcement of sanctions against North Korea “remains insufficient and highly inconsistent” and calls for additional measures to address shortcomings.

(Reporting By James Pearson; Editing by Bill Tarrant)

Norway pledges $10 million to counter Trumps global anti abortion move

Norwegian Prime Minister Erna Solberg, attends the annual meeting of the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos, Switzerland,

OSLO (Reuters) – Norway has joined an international initiative to raise millions of dollars to replace shortfalls left by U.S. President Donald Trump’s ban on U.S.-funded groups worldwide providing information on abortion.

In January, the Netherlands started a global fund to help women access abortion services, saying Trump’s “global gag rule” meant a funding gap of $600 million over the next four years, and has pledged $10 million to the initiative to replace that.

Sweden, Denmark, Belgium, Luxembourg, Finland, Canada and Cape Verde have all also lent their support.

“The government is increasing its support for family planning and safe abortion by 85 million Norwegian crowns ($10 million) compared with 2016,” Prime Minister Erna Solberg said.

“At a time when this agenda has come under pressure, a joint effort is particularly important,” he said in a statement.

Last month, Trump reinstated a policy requiring overseas organizations that receive U.S. family-planning funds to certify they do not perform abortions or provide abortion advice as a method of family planning.

(Reporting by Gwladys Fouche; Editing by Louise Ireland)