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China Set to Test New Aircraft Carrier

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North Korea: North Korean, South Korean and Japanese media reported details of the ceremonies in Pyongyang on 25 April to commemorate the 81st anniversary of the founding of the Korean People's Army (KPA).  Kim Jong Un, the Supreme Commander of the KPA, presided and took the salute and parade of troops. The event took place at the mausoleum where his grandfather and father are buried. It was closed to the public.



Comment: No doubt, KPA Founder's Day ceremonies prevented North Korea from responding to South Korea's invitation to hold low level talks about the Kaesong Industrial Complex.


Follow-up to Musan mural disaster. NightWatch reported that on 14 April a mural of Kim Il-sung and Kim Chong-il near Musan city rail station collapsed from high winds. Musan is in North Hamgyong Province, located on the China border in far northeastern North Korea. Many defectors enter China from the border provinces including North Hamgyong, leaving their families behind.


North Korean national security authorities have investigated the collapse and are blaming saboteurs from the defector families. Several have been relocated to a remote area. The rest are under surveillance and subject to interrogation. Authorities are using the mural collapse repression as an object lesson for dissidents.


China: A military spokesman confirmed Thursday that China's first aircraft carrier, the Liaoning, is set to conduct a high seas trials. When and in what waters the voyage will be conducted will be decided in accordance with overall conditions, Yang Yujun, spokesman of the Ministry of National Defense, told a press conference.


Meanwhile, Rear Admiral Song Xue, deputy chief of staff of the People's Liberation Army (PLA) Navy, said Tuesday that China will have more than one aircraft carrier. Speaking at a ceremony in Beijing to celebrate the 64th anniversary of the founding of the PLA Navy, Song said, "China will have more than one aircraft carrier" and said, "The next aircraft carrier we need will be larger and able to carry more fighters."



Song confirmed that the Liaoning was not assigned to any of the three navy fleets. It remains assigned to navy headquarters, as a strategic asset.


Comment: Song refuted  foreign media reports that China was building new aircraft carriers in Shanghai, saying such reports were not accurate. However, in July 2011, a Chinese official reportedly said China was building two aircraft carriers in Shanghai. That report is not accurate, but then Admiral Song also was dissembling in minimizing Chinese ambitions and plans for a carrier-based strategic fleet. One news report from Taiwan stated construction of the next Chinese carrier would begin in 2013.


A Taiwan press outlet reported details of the future deployment of two carriers plus escorts which supposedly will be based at the new naval base on Hainan island. This report has not been confirmed and Taiwan's press is notorious for exaggerating the Chinese threat.



Syria: English media reported that the Muslim Brotherhood is set to open offices inside Syria for the first time since the organization was crushed there decades ago. According to the report this is an effort to capitalize on the increasingly Islamist rebellion.


Riad al-Shaqfa, the movement's exiled leader, said in an interview that a decision was taken recently to revive organizational structures inside Syria and followers have been asked to start opening party offices in rebel-held areas.



"In the beginning we said this is a time for revolution, not ideology. Now there are many groups inside so we feel we should reorganize," he said, adding that the Brotherhood was hoping to promote a more moderate brand of Islamist thinking at a time of growing radicalization.


Comment: The Brotherhood hold seats in the opposition umbrella political organization, the Syrian National Council, which provides it legitimacy. The late Hafez al Asad suppressed the Brotherhood after it staged a rebellious uprising in the town of Hama in 1982. The army and militias killed up to 40,000 people, according to the Syrian Human Rights Committee.


It has been banned ever since, but evidently retained or rebuilt an underground organization. The Brotherhood appears to be making a bid to provide political leadership for the Islamist opposition groups.



Hamas-Qatar: For the record. Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh returned to the Gaza Strip on Thursday through the Rafah crossing on Egypt's border. The premier had been to Qatar, where he held talks with Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad bin Khalifa Al-Thani and Hamas politburo chief Khalid Mashaal.


Comment: The significance of this event is it indicates Qatar is replacing or has replaced Iran as the Hamas benefactor. Khalid Mashaal now lives in Qatar, having fled Damascus last year.  This reinforces that Hamas is back in the Sunni fold and that represents a strategic setback to Iran. 



Qatar is one of the primary financial supporters of the Sunni opposition fighting groups in Syria and supported al Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb fighters in Mali. It almost certainly also is supporting resurgent Sunni opposition fighters in Iraq. The House of al-Thani wants to lead the Arabs.


Mali: Update. Today, the UN Security Council approved a resolution that will establish a 12,600-strong peacekeeping force in Mali. The UN forces will be known as the United Nations Multidimensional Stabilization Mission in Mali, or MINUSMA. It will be the second-largest UN peacekeeping force in Africa. Some 6,000 West African soldiers now in Mali will merge into the new UN force.



End of NightWatch



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