Donald Trump has welcomed home three Americans released by North Korea, calling it a “great honour” and thanking Kim Jong Un for setting them free.
He and first lady Melania arrived at Andrews airbase, near Washington, to greet the former prisoners as their medical plane touched down in the early hours.
They walked up the aircarft’s steps and went inside before emerging with Kim Dong Chul, Kim Hak Song and Tony Kim.
The men held their hands in the air and made the V peace sign as Mr Trump applauded.
Through a translator, the men said it was “like a dream” to be home.
Vice president Mike Pence also welcomed the former prisoners, while secretary of state Mike Pompeo smiled broadly as the trio took their first steps back on home soil.
It was Mr Pompeo’s second visit to North Korea this week that pushed through the release.
“This is a special night for these three really great people,” said Mr Trump.
“I really think he wants to do something,” the President added, speaking about the recent diplomatic efforts of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.
The President said relations with the secretive state were “starting off on a new footing” and said Mr Kim had done a “wonderful thing” letting the men go.
Face-to-face talks between Mr Trump and Mr Kim are set to take place within weeks, with a time and place to be made public in the coming days.
Singapore is believed to be a likely location for the summit between the leaders, who up until recently had been trading personal insults and threats.
The freed men were taken by bus to a military hospital for tests and will be reunited with their families later.
In a statement before they arrived, they said: “We would like to express our deep appreciation to the United States government, President Trump, Secretary Pompeo, and the people of the United States for bringing us home.
“We thank God, and all our families and friends who prayed for us and for our return. God Bless America, the greatest nation in the world.”
One of the men, Kim Dong Chul, 64, had been sentenced to 10 years’ hard labour in North Korea in 2016 after being accused of spying.
Tony Kim, a Korean-American professor, was arrested last April after a month-long assignment as a guest lecturer at Pyongyang University of Science and Technology (PUST).
Kim Hak Song also worked at the university and was detained a month later, accused of being involved in “hostile acts” against North Korea.
It is unclear whether they were formally convicted and sentenced.
The release of the men marks an early success for new secretary of state Mike Pompeo, with fresh pictures on Thursday showing his second meeting with Kim Jong Un earlier this week.
Primarily geared towards firming up details of the upcoming summit, the visit appears to have been instrumental in winning the men’s freedom.
Mr Kim has instigated a remarkable warming in relations between him, the US and neighbour South Korea.
It follows a series of rocket tests and nuclear threats – but Mr Kim has now pledged to give up those ambitions.
However, in a vivid reminder of the brutality of the North Korea regime, the only other American to be freed from North Korea under the Trump presidency, Otto Warmbier, died last year after being sent back to the US in a coma.
Mr Trump told reporters at the airbase on Thursday morning that he had spoken to Mr Warmbier’s family in recent days.
COVID-19: Israel bans all passenger flights in and out of country | World News
Israel is banning all passenger flights in and out of the country to tackle the coronavirus pandemic and prevent variants from getting a foothold among its population.
The announcement came as Israeli police clashed in a number of cities with ultra-Orthodox protesters who are resisting the coronavirus safety rules, Associated Press reported.
Authorities are struggling to enforce COVID-19 requirements, including social distancing, in ultra-Orthodox communities throughout the country, contributing to one of the world’s highest rates of infection.
The infection rate among the community also threatens to undermine the Israeli government’s successful vaccine campaign, which has seen the country vaccinate over a quarter of its 9.2 million people.
But infection rates remain high, with an average of over 8,000 new cases reported every day.
Late on Sunday evening, the Israeli Cabinet approved measures to close nearly all incoming and outgoing air traffic, with exceptions for humanitarian travel such as for a funeral or for medical patients.
The order still requires parliamentary legislation to be made lawful and will last until the end of January, according to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
He said: “Today we are closing Ben-Gurion International Airport. Contrary to what is being said, we are ahead of the whole world. No country has done what we are about to do.
“We are hermetically closing the skies apart from very rare exceptions in order to prevent the entry of mutated viruses and in order to ensure that we will advance quickly with our vaccines operation.
“I would like to emphasise that just this week, in which we are approving closing the skies, we will vaccinate another approximately one million Israelis.”
“We are thereby ensuring that the damage from the mutation, if it enters, and from additional variants, if they enter, will be much smaller, and of course, we will be able to open our economy,” Mr Netanyahu said.
“Until now we have vaccinated approximately 2.5 million Israeli citizens with the first dose of the vaccine. Of these, around one million citizens have received the second dose,” the prime minister concluded.
Experts say that a lack of compliance with safety regulations in Israel’s ultra-Orthodox communities has been a major factor in the spread of the virus.
Despite making up just over 10% of the country’s population, the Orthodox community accounts for more than a third of Israel’s COVID-19 cases.
The country’s police force have been reluctant to confront the community, reported Associated Press, with clashes in one city leading to an officer firing into the air to keep a crowd at bay.
Israel has recorded over 595,000 positive cases since the start of the pandemic and over 4,361 deaths.
The worst unrest on Sunday occurred in the ultra-Orthodox city of Bnei Brak, where large crowds of young men clashed with police and threatened journalists, prompting one police officer to fire his pistol into the air.
Associated Press reported how in Jerusalem police fired tear gas and putrid-smelling water to disperse hundreds of ultra-Orthodox residents outside a reopened school while the demonstrators called the police “Nazis”.
“I expect all citizens of Israel to respect the safety guidelines. That includes all the sectors, including the ultra-Orthodox,” said Mr Netanyahu, who is relying on ultra-Orthodox support in the upcoming elections.
COVID-19: Joe Biden to reimpose travel ban on UK and European Union – reports | US News
US President Joe Biden is set to reimpose a number of travel bans that were repealed by his predecessor, according to the Reuters news agency.
Donald Trump lifted travel restrictions between the US and Brazil and Europe two days before he left office – a decision Joe Biden will imminently rescind through an executive order.
Speaking to the Reuters news agency, anonymous sources said the new president will announce the move on Monday, that will stop entry into the US from European Union countries, the UK, Brazil and South Africa.
The move has been confirmed to the news agency by the principal director of the Centre for Disease Control (CDC), Dr Anne Schuchat, who said: “We are adding South Africa to the restricted list because of the concerning variant present that has already spread beyond South Africa.”
She added the agency was “putting in place this suite of measures to protect Americans and also to reduce the risk of these variants spreading and worsening the current pandemic”.
The CDC is concerned that vaccines may be less effective against the COVID-19 variant discovered in South Africa, adding it is up to 50% more infectious than other versions of the virus.
Mr Biden has been seen as taking swift action on COVID-19 in the early days of office, and has already signed executive orders imposing mandatory mask wearing and social distancing on government properties across the US.
The UK has also been mulling the idea of full border closures as part of the current lockdown, in an effort to limit the introduction of further variants into the country.
At the moment, flights arriving in to the UK from South America and Portugal are banned, with all other arrivals required to quarantine for 10 days.
Mexico: 19 burned bodies found near town of Camargo on US border | World News
Nineteen bodies have been found near a Mexican town on the US border which has seen a number of gang-related disputes in recent years.
The bodies, which had been shot and burned, were discovered on a dirt road close to the town of Camargo, across the Rio Grande from Texas, after complaints from locals about a burning vehicle, according to the Tamaulipas state prosecutor’s office.
Officials found two vehicles on fire – one containing 15 bodies and the other containing four.
All the bodies had been shot, but no shells were found nearby, leading authorities to believe they had been killed elsewhere.
An official said that the killings had happened on Friday, but locals had been too afraid to report them.
Camargo has faced high numbers of drug and migrant smuggling incidents in recent years, with gangs trying to win control of large stretches of the border with the aim of making money on items passing through.
Historically, the town has been run by the Gulf cartel, but has faced competition in recent years from the Northeast cartel, which is trying to take over.
In January last year, 21 bodies were found in vehicles close to the nearby town of Ciudad Mier, with the Mexican army killing 11 alleged gunmen days later.
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