Nov 2017

US renews travel alert for Europe, travel ban to North Korea takes effect

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Security check at Roissy-Charles-de-Gaulle airport Security check at Roissy-Charles-de-Gaulle airport AFP

Washington *( AFP / BBC) : The US State Department has renewed its travel alert for Europe, warning citizens about the continued threat of terrorist attacks.

The latest update is an extension of the previous travel alert issued in May, and expires November 30.

American travelers are urged to exercise caution, particularly when visiting busy tourist locations, transportation hubs, markets, shopping malls and local government facilities. 

Other soft targets include hotels, clubs, restaurants, places of worship, parks, high-profile events, educational institutions and airports.

Terrorist tactics include firearm attacks, explosives, the use of vehicles to ram into large crowds, and sharp-edged weapons that are difficult to detect prior to the attacks, says the state department.

The alert follows a steady string of terrorist incidents in France, Russia, Sweden, the UK, Spain and Finland, perpetrated by the ISIS.

"US citizens should always be alert to the possibility that terrorist sympathizers or self-radicalized extremists may conduct attacks with little or no warning," advises the state department.

In the event of an attack, citizens are advised to follow the instructions of local authorities, monitor media sources, stay in touch with family members and make sure they know how to reach you in the event of an emergency.

Visitors should also consult the website of the US embassy or consulate in their destination country.

North Korea tourism: US travel ban takes effect

BBC reports ---

A US ban on its citizens travelling to North Korea has come into effect, at a time of heightened tensions over North Korean missile launches.

The new rule was announced after US student Otto Warmbier died after being released from prison in North Korea.

The State Department said it was necessary "due to the serious and mounting risk" of detention.

Any US citizen breaking the rules may face criminal penalties and have their passports revoked.

The State Department would only grant permission to US citizens to go to North Korea "under very limited circumstances", such as for journalism or humanitarian work.

Tour operators have suggested that up to 1,000 Americans visit North Korea every year, making up about a fifth of Western tourists. The vast majority of visitors are Chinese. About 5,000 Western tourists visit North Korea every year

Otto Warmbier was arrested and jailed in 2016 after Pyongyang accused him of attempting to take a propaganda sign from a hotel while on holiday.

He was released to his family in the US in June, but he was in a coma and died shortly afterwards without regaining consciousness. The cause of his death remains unclear.

Otto Warmbier appeared in a news conference in 2016 confessing to stealing a propaganda sign

The State Department said at least 16 citizens had been detained in North Korea in the past decade. Three are known to be in detention.

Most of those detained have been US missionaries, journalists and professors.

The US has in the past accused North Korea of detaining its citizens to use them as pawns in negotiations over its nuclear weapons programme.

Tourism offers outside visitors a rare window into North Korean life, but tour groups are heavily regulated as well as monitored.

It is also a lucrative source of income, with one estimate that it nets authorities up to $43.6m (£34m) a year.

The State Department said in its latest statement that anyone visiting North Korea "should have no expectation of privacy", with all electronic devices subject to searches and authorities able to monitor mobile phone calls.

It also warned that it was "entirely possible" that tourism money was being used to fund North Korea's nuclear programmes.

The new rules also affect US citizens living and working in North Korea, such as aid workers and teachers.

About 60 US citizens who were employees or family members of employees at North Korea's Pyongyang University of Science and Technology have departed, according to Reuters.

The wire news agency said they were unable to receive special permission to stay, despite attempts by the university to lobby the US government for exemptions.

It quoted an unnamed source saying the school was "severely impacted" by the US travel ban as well as the "decision of some other personnel not to return."

The ban comes amid escalating tensions between the two countries and in the region.

This week North Korea reiterated its threat to launch a missile strike on the US Pacific island of Guam, and conducted what it called its "first step" of wider military operations in the Pacific by firing a missile over Japan.

US President Donald Trump had recently vowed to rain "fire and fury" on North Korea in response to its threats, and warned that the US military is "locked and loaded".

Swpt. 2 2017

Last modified on Thursday, 07 September 2017 10:20

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