New Zealand Volcano Erupts, and Police See ‘No Signs of Life’

At least five people have been confirmed killed after a volcano suddenly erupted on Monday on a popular island destination off the eastern coast of New Zealand on Monday, trapping dozens of tourists.

That toll is expected to rise. The New Zealand police said in a statement on Tuesday that “no signs of life have been seen at any point” on the island by reconnaissance flights made since the eruption. “Anyone who could have been taken from the island alive was rescued,” the police said.

Twenty-three people, including the five dead, were evacuated on Monday, said a New Zealand deputy police commissioner, John Tims. Officers said that more people were stranded on the island after the eruption.

Among the missing were about a dozen people who were seen on a webcam exploring the upper reaches of the volcano’s crater just before the eruption at 2:11 p.m. local time, Reuters reported.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said that the tourists on White Island seemed to have little time to seek shelter before the “very significant” eruption occurred. “A number of people are reportedly injured,” she said.

The island, also known as Whakaari, is privately owned and is typically visited by thousands of tourists every year.

On Monday, enveloped in searing ash, White Island was too dangerous for emergency workers to reach, Mr. Tims told an afternoon news conference as he stood beside Ms. Ardern. He said there had been no communication with anyone still on the island. Ash and smoke made it difficult for cameras pointed toward the volcano to see anyone on the island.

“We know the urgency to go back to the island,” he told reporters.

After speaking to reporters, Ms. Ardern traveled to Whakatane, the town closest to the affected area.

“I know that there will be a huge amount of anxiety for those who had loved ones on the island at the time,” she said, adding she would not provide details on the victims.

“We don’t have full clarity at this point and you’ll understand why we’re loath to get into speculation.”

Tourists from a Royal Caribbean cruise ship were among those who visited the island on Monday, the company said, but the company did not say how many went or address their fate. Mr. Tims, the police commissioner, said the police were due to receive a list of those who had gone to the island.

A Royal Caribbean spokesman, Jonathon Fishman, said the company was “working together with local authorities, and providing all the help and care we can to our guests and their families, including offering medical resources and counseling.”

Australia’s prime minister, Scott Morrison, said in a tweet that “Australians have been caught up in this terrible event and we are working to determine their well-being.”

GeoNet, the agency that monitors geological activity in New Zealand, initially raised its volcanic alert level to four, on a scale where five represents a major eruption. The eruption was reported to have occurred at 2:11 p.m. local time. Several hours later, GeoNet lowered the alert level to three, noting there was no further escalation in volcanic activity.

Royal Caribbean Cruises did not say whether it had known of the warnings about the volcanic activity.

White Island is about 30 miles from New Zealand’s North Island. People who live along the coast of the Bay of Plenty, where White Island sits, messaged local news services reporting ash falling from the sky.

The police have established a no-fly zone around the island and warned people living near areas that might be affected by falling ash to remain indoors and listen to the radio or television for news updates.

Ash fall can contain jagged particles of abrasive rock or natural glass, and anyone exposed to it was advised to wear a dust mask or use a cloth handkerchief to cover their noses and mouths and wear goggles to protect their eyes.

Ken Glairdhill from the research institute GNS Science likened the eruption to the volcano “clearing its throat,” and said that while it looked like it had quietened down, the authorities could not be certain there would not be another eruption within the next 24 hours.

The volcano is New Zealand’s most active, with 70 percent of the volcano under the sea. People were allowed to visit the island even after GeoNet had earlier issued bulletins warning of “moderate volcanic unrest” with “substantial gas, steam and mud bursts” observed at the crater lake.

“We’ve issued two or three bulletins in the last few weeks about the increase in activity,” Brad Scott, a GeoNet volcanologist, said in an interview.

He said that even though the volcano has been erupting since 2011, tourists have been undeterred, with visits to the island dating back to the late 1800s.

He said the agency passed its information on the volcano’s activity to tour operators and the police, but tourists make their own decisions about whether to visit the island.

“The weather has traditionally been the only thing that has stopped visitors,” he said, noting that the volcano sits in the open ocean and people wanting to reach it have to contend with rough waters to make the journey.

The last time there was a large number of fatalities on White Island had nothing to do with a volcanic eruption. In 1914, part of a crater wall collapsed, causing a landslide and killing 10 men mining sulfur.


The best holiday tech gifts for under $250, $500

If you’re just starting to think about your holiday shopping list, no worries. Electronics are a great last-minute gift and some new tech is always appreciated. Here are some of CNET’s top gift picks for this holiday season in two price categories — under $250, and under $500 for those really looking to splurge.

UNDER $250

The Vizio SB3621n-E8 is the best sound bar under $300 we have ever heard. (Sarah Tew/CNET/TNS)

Vizio SB3621 soundbar

CNET rating: 5 stars out of 5 (spectacular)

The cost: $150 at

The good: The Vizio SB3621 offers excellent performance for an ultra-budget sound bar with great movie sound and toe-tapping music playback. The sound bar offers a decent selection of inputs including Bluetooth and will decode both Dolby and DTS. The sound bar and wireless sub feature excellent build quality and a seamless setup.

The bad: The LED display is not very helpful, and the WAV-file-only USB port is a little weird.

The bottom line: The Vizio SB3621n-E8 is the best sound bar under $300 we have ever heard. If you want to boost your TV’s sound, this is the new budget benchmark.

The AirPods Pro are great true wireless headphones that exceed the standard AirPods in nearly every way. (Sarah Tew/CNET/TNS)

Apple AirPods Pro

CNET rating: 4.5 stars out of 5 (outstanding)

The cost: $249 at

The good: The AirPods Pro have an ultracompact, lightweight, noise-isolating and sweatproof design that fits more ears securely and delivers better bass and overall sound than the original AirPods. Their active noise-canceling significantly reduces ambient noise and they have a transparency mode to let in sound. Headset performance when making calls is top-notch. Case supports wireless charging, and replacement ear tips are dirt cheap.

The bad: The sound quality is good, but some competitors sound better. It’s unclear if these have better long-term battery life than the original AirPods.

The bottom line: While they don’t quite take the crown for best-in-class sound quality, the AirPods Pro are great true wireless headphones that exceed the standard AirPods in nearly every way.

With excellent sound and the choice of Alexa or Google Assistant, the Sonos One reaffirms its place as the best smart speaker for the money. (Sarah Tew/CNET/TNS)

Sonos One speaker

CNET rating: 4.5 stars out of 5 (outstanding)

The cost: $199 at

The good: The Sonos One integrates both Alexa and Google Assistant voice control, with better sound quality than any smart speaker at its price. It offers smart home controls from both systems and its far-field microphone performs well. The Sonos One works seamlessly with the Sonos multiroom system and can pair with a second One for stereo sound. It also supports Apple AirPlay 2 and Spotify Connect.

The bad: The One costs twice as much as an Amazon Echo. You can’t switch between the Assistant and Alexa on the fly, and need to run the setup again to do so. It doesn’t work well if you have an Echo within earshot. There’s no Bluetooth.

The bottom line: With excellent sound and the choice of Alexa or Google Assistant, the Sonos One reaffirms its place as the best smart speaker for the money.

The Apple Watch Series 3 is the best overall smartwatch you can buy. (Sarah Tew/CNET/TNS)

Apple Watch Series 3

CNET rating: 4 stars out of 5 (excellent)

The cost: Starting at $199 at

The good: Cellular connection works well for phone calls, email, Siri and messages. Music now syncs more easily. Improvements in fitness tracking and added watch faces. Adds barometer to GPS and swimproofing. Same overall size as the previous model.

The bad: Battery life takes a major hit when making calls or during GPS workouts. The 42-millimeter cellular model is expensive, and that’s before monthly wireless service and Apple Music fees. Still requires an iPhone to set up and pair with.

The bottom line: The Apple Watch Series 3 is the best overall smartwatch you can buy, but battery limitations and add-on fees keep it from being a must-have upgrade.


UNDER $500

HPs Chromebook x2 raises the bar for the two-in-one category, combining effective design, peppy performance and a fine display at a killer price. (Sarah Tew/CNET/TNS)

HP Chromebook x2 two-in-one computer

CNET rating: 4 stars out of 5 (excellent)

The cost: Starting at $459 at

The good: The x2’s compelling design makes it simple to shift from laptop to tablet and back. Stylus and keyboard included. The touchscreen looks good and is responsive. It has two cameras and great speakers. There’s a sufficient array of ports and connections. Battery life is respectable.

The bad: Integrated storage is limited to a measly 32GB. The keyboard is a bit mushy. Awkward stylus holster.

The bottom lie: HP’s Chromebook x2 raises the bar for the two-in-one category, combining effective design, peppy performance and a fine display at a killer price.

The Yamaha YAS-209 is a worthy smart soundbar that offers excellent sound quality, whether it’s playing music or movies. (Sarah Tew/CNET/TNS)

Yamaha YAS-209 soundbar

CNET rating: 4 stars out of 5 (excellent)

The cost: $300 at

The good: The Yamaha YAS-209 offers excellent sound quality in a compact soundbar. The addition of Amazon Alexa is useful and the mics work well in loud environments. The soundbar’s implementation of DTS Virtual:X offers a rich surround effect. The subwoofer is more articulate and offers more headroom than the competing Polk soundbar.

The bad: There’s no multiroom music feature. There’s no onscreen display and the LEDs on the top are too small to see from your chair.

The bottom line: The Yamaha YAS-209 is a worthy smart soundbar that offers excellent sound quality, whether it’s playing music or movies.

The newest iPad is very good, and makes a strong case for spending as little as possible on an Apple tablet. (Sarah Tew/CNET/TNS)

Apple iPad (10.2-inch)

CNET rating: 4 stars out of 5 (excellent)

The cost: Starting at $329 at

The good: The 10.2-inch iPad has a larger display than before. Smart Connector supports a few snap-on keyboard accessories. One of the most affordable devices in Apple’s gadget lineup. The iPad OS works better than expected and is well-optimized for the A10 processor.

The bad: The base 32GB of storage isn’t enough, meaning you’ll really be paying $429 for the 128GB model unless you can find a sale. It’s bigger and heavier than older model. The older A10 processor is the same as the previous iPad’s, which you can still get on sale.

The bottom line: This basic budget iPad is good, and makes a strong case for spending as little as possible on an Apple tablet.

The DJI Spark delivers all of the camera drone features most people will ever need in an impossibly small package. (Josh Goldman/CNET/TNS)

DJI Spark camera drone

CNET rating: 4 stars out of 5 (excellent)

The cost: $345 at

The good: The DJI Spark delivers a tiny, lightweight design; excellent mechanically stabilized camera; USB charging and advanced features like gesture controls and obstacle detection. It travels well and is great for aerial photos and video.

The bad: Flight time can be as short as 10 to 14 minutes. The app can be frustrating to use, especially on smaller screens. And you should expect to buy additional batteries and possibly the optional controller.

The bottom line: The DJI Spark delivers all of the camera drone features most people will ever need in an impossibly small package.


With Few Cards to Play, Zelensky Meets Putin Face to Face

PARIS — It has the makings of a singularly unequal contest: a former KGB agent and seasoned master of no-holds-barred global intrigue versus a former comedian bereft of any experience in power politics and battered by his country’s bruising encounters with President Trump.

President Vladimir V. Putin, Russia’s master for nearly 20 years, and President Volodomyr Zelensky of Ukraine, in office for just six months and with far fewer military and economic resources to call on, are meeting for the first time on Monday, seeking an end to five and a half years of war.

Adding to the imbalance, the face-off in Paris is being refereed by Angela Merkel, Germany’s lame-duck chancellor, and President Emmanuel Macron of France, who has tilted in recent months to a more conciliatory approach toward Russia.

And as Mr. Zelensky seeks an end to the conflict with Russian-backed separatists who control a large part of eastern Ukraine, he enters negotiations without the counterweight Ukraine had in its favor until recently: clear backing from the United States.

The encounter is more likely to end in stalemate than a walkover for Mr. Putin, said John E. Herbst, a former United States ambassador to Ukraine.

“Putin is not going to make any concessions,” Mr. Herbst said, “So there are two options: Zelensky decides to make major concessions, or nothing happens.” The latter is more likely, he added.

Under mounting pressure at home to stand firm, Mr. Zelensky has limited room to maneuver, especially as his previous gestures of good will, notably the withdrawal of Ukrainian troops from the front line, have won no reciprocal steps by Russia or the rebels it supports in the regions of Donetsk and Luhansk.

The war has killed more than 13,000 combatants and civilians, and the Paris meeting will try to revive a stillborn peace deal that was reached in Minsk, the capital of Belarus, in 2015.

Both leaders have much to gain. Mr. Putin desperately wants the West to lift sanctions imposed on Russia in 2014 over its annexation of Crimea and its sponsorship of the separatists. Mr. Zelensky, a political neophyte, won a landslide victory in Ukraine’s April presidential election on promises to end the fighting.

But Mr. Zelensky also has much to lose.

Rather than annexing the breakaway territory in the east, Russia has made clear that its aim is to keep Ukraine firmly under its influence, not integrated with the West economically, militarily or politically. Mr. Putin’s government has indicated that Ukraine could regain at least nominal sovereignty over the region, and control of its eastern border with Russia.

Moscow’s price for such a settlement includes Ukraine staying out of the European Union and NATO, and changing its Constitution to give more authority to regional governments — including those where pro-Russian forces are likely to govern.

Such an agreement would be seen by many Ukrainians as a capitulation to Mr. Putin and an infringement on their country’s independence. Yet there is no approach that commands anything resembling majority support in Ukraine — neither making the concessions Russia is seeking, nor continuing the war, nor ceding control of the territory.

Worried that Mr. Zelensky might succumb to Mr. Putin’s powers of persuasion, as President Trump did in Helsinki in July last year, three opposition groups in Ukraine issued a manifesto ahead of the Paris meeting drawing six “red lines” that should not be crossed. They demanded that Mr. Zelensky make no concessions to Mr. Putin on Ukraine’s “Euro-Atlantic” foreign policy, the status of eastern regions and the timing of elections in territory occupied by Russian-backed separatists.

Mr. Zelensky’s predecessor as president, Petro O. Poroshenko, urged Mr. Zelensky to “avoid meeting one on one with Putin,” who he said could never be trusted. If he must sit down with his Russian counterpart, Mr. Poroshenko wrote in an editorial published on Friday, Mr. Zelensky must “resist his KGB manipulations and flattery.”

The United States has never been formally involved in shaping or enacting the Minsk agreements, but under President Barack Obama it played a central role in “lassoing the various sides,” said Alina Polyakova of the Brookings Institution in Washington.

But Mr. Trump has been besieged by impeachment hearings focused on his dealings with Ukraine — specifically, delaying promised military aid and withholding a much-coveted White House meeting with Mr. Zelensky — and criticism of repeated foreign policy shifts that favor Mr. Putin.

Mr. Trump has shown little inclination to get involved in the nitty-gritty of settling the war, telling Mr. Zelensky when they met in New York in September, “I really hope you and President Putin get together and can solve your problem.”

Many Trump administration officials who advocated support for Ukraine in its struggle against Russia have resigned or been sidelined.

The State Department’s special envoy for Ukraine and its point man for settling the conflict in the east, Kurt D. Volker, resigned in September.

Since the last peace talks in 2016, Ms. Polyakova said, “Putin has gained a lot more leverage because of U.S. absenteeism and France’s pivot towards a Russian reset.” Because of this, she added, “the best-case scenario for Ukraine in these talks is their failure.”


Sweden Charges Ex-Ambassador to China Over Secret Meetings

Sweden’s former ambassador to China has been charged with “arbitrariness during negotiations with a foreign power,” after she held what Swedish prosecutors said on Monday were unauthorized meetings with two men representing Chinese state interests.

The announcement of the charges was the latest twist in a four-year-old case, in which a Swedish citizen was spirited to China from Thailand, the ambassador held what the authorities say were secret meetings in a Stockholm hotel, and ties between China and Sweden have been strained.

The former ambassador, Anna Lindstedt, was accused earlier this year of arranging the talks between Angela Gui, the daughter of Gui Minhai, a Swedish bookseller detained in China, and two Chinese men who had offered to help free Mr. Gui in January. Instead of talks about freeing her father, Ms. Gui said, she was pressured to keep silent.

After the talks at a Stockholm hotel, Ms. Gui accused Ms. Lindstedt, the ambassador at the time, of arranging the talks without authorization from the Swedish Ministry for Foreign Affairs. The ministry opened an internal investigation into Ms. Lindstedt in mid-February.

ImageAnna LindstedtCredit…Leif R Jansson/TT, via Associated Press

“In this specific consular matter, she has exceeded her mandate and has therefore rendered herself criminally liable,” Hans Ihrman, the deputy chief public prosecutor for Sweden’s National Security Unit, said in a statement on Monday. “A charge of arbitrariness during negotiations with a foreign power is unprecedented in modern times,” he added.

The charge can bring a maximum prison sentence of two years under the Swedish Penal Code.

Mr. Gui was one of five Hong Kong-based publishers who were abducted and taken to China in 2015 after publishing books that were critical of the Communist Party elite, setting off international condemnation.

After being taken from Thailand to China in 2015, he was formally released two years later but was not allowed to leave the country.

Mr. Gui was again detained early last year, when two Swedish diplomats tried to accompany him on a train from Shanghai to Beijing, where they planned to take him into the Swedish Embassy. But Chinese police officers boarded the train and took him into custody.

They said later that Mr. Gui was suspected of illegally providing state secrets, but gave no details or evidence. Soon after, the Chinese authorities brought Mr. Gui before a group of reporters, and he told them that the Swedish diplomats had wanted to spirit him back to Sweden.

Mr. Gui’s whereabouts have been unclear since then.

Relations between Sweden and China have been strained since Mr. Gui was kidnapped in 2015, and tensions increased last month when the Swedish office of the writers’ group PEN said that it was awarding a literary prize to Mr. Gui. The prize is given annually to an author or publisher who is persecuted, threatened or living in exile.

Three days later, the Chinese Embassy in Stockholm called the prize a “farce” and threatened consequences if members of the Swedish government were to attend the award ceremony.

A week later, Amanda Lind, Sweden’s minister of culture, not only attended the ceremony but also awarded the prize, despite warnings from the Chinese ambassador that Ms. Lind and other government officials working in the area of culture would no longer be welcome in China.

Late last month, China appeared to follow through on its warning, with the public service broadcaster SVT reporting that two Swedish films had been banned from screenings in China.

Last week, after a seminar in Gothenburg, Sweden, on Swedish-Chinese relations, the Chinese ambassador to Sweden, Gui Congyou, told the newspaper Goteborgs-Posten that China would limit trade with Sweden because of its handling of the Gui Minhai case.

“No one can think that they can harm China’s interests and at the same time draw great profits in the country,” the ambassador told the newspaper on Wednesday. “We must of course take countermeasures.”

In an interview with Goteborgs-Posten, Gui Congyou was reticent and cryptic but said that reprisals would not just be limited to cultural exchanges. Asked what areas other than culture could be affected, he said, “we will inform your colleagues at your Foreign Ministry.”

Christina Anderson contributed reporting.


Netflix dominates Golden Globe nominations with ‘Marriage Story’ and ‘The Irishman’

Netflix dominated the Golden Globe nominations with strong showings from movies including “The Irishman” and “Marriage Story,” as well as series including “The Crown” and “Unbelievable.”

The largest streaming service collected a total of 34 nominations for its shows and films from the Hollywood Foreign Press Assn., which announced the nods early Monday morning.

The streamer’s bounty in the film categories far surpassed rivals with 17 nominations, more than doubling that of its closest rival, Sony Pictures, which scored eight nods for flicks including Quentin Tarantino’s “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood.

In TV, the nominations were much less lopsided, with Netflix earnings 17 nominations, versus 15 for HBO, which had a powerful showing from shows including “Chernobyl,” “Barry” and “Big Little Lies.”

Netflix’s big morning is a boost for the company, which sees awards season as being about much more than bragging rights. The Los Gatos-based company is counting on marquee original content to fend of competition from rivals including Disney+ and the upcoming HBO Max, which are spending billions of dollars to unseat Netflix as the dominant player in subscription video.

For Netflix and streaming competitors, awards campaigns are a key way of driving viewers and attracting top-tier talent. To meet the challenge in the industry-wide arms race for viewers, Netflix is spending an estimated $15 billion on content this year.

The company is expected to wage an expensive Oscar campaign for award hopefuls, after its best picture nominee “Roma” lost to Universal Pictures’ “Green Book” earlier this year.

This year, three of the best picture drama nominees were produced by Netflix. Its contenders include Noah Baumbach’s emotionally complex “Marriage Story,” featuring Adam Driver and Scarlett Johansson as a couple going through a wrenching divorce. The film earned six nominations.

“The Irishman,” Martin Scorsese’s epic 3 1/2-hour mob movie starring Robert De Niro, Joe Pesci and Al Pacino, was recognized in five categories, while “The Two Popes,” with Anthony Hopkins and Jonathan Pryce, is up for honors in four.

The Eddie Murphy film “Dolemite Is My Name,” about blaxploitation cinema legend Rudy Ray Moore, was nominated for best picture in comedy, and best actor for Murphy.

Here’s how the studios and networks stack up.

Film distributors

Netflix 17 Sony Pictures Releasing 8 Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures 6 Warner Bros. Pictures 6 Lionsgate 5 Universal Pictures 5 NEON 4 Amazon Studios 3 Paramount Pictures 3 United Artists Releasing 3

A24 2 Focus Features 2 Fox Searchlight Pictures 2 Sony Pictures Classics 2 LD Entertainment / Roadside Attractions 1 STXfilms 1

TV networks

Netflix 17 HBO 15 Hulu 5 Amazon Prime Video 5 FX Networks 4 Apple TV+ 3 Showtime 3 BBC America 2 USA Network 1


‘The Ferrante Effect’: In Italy, Women Writers Are Ascendant

Some of Italy’s female critics think their male counterparts are missing the point.

Tiziana de Rogatis, a critic whose book on Ferrante’s diction came out in the United States this month, said that Ferrante, like Morante, is a sophisticated thinker and writer who chooses to write plainly and empathetically to be understood. Academia, she said, eventually catches up with great authors “first popular with the public.”

Some writers and literature professors argue that dusty elitism, more than overt sexism, hinders women from being recognized.

“There is a widespread idea here that literary fiction should be virtuoso and self-referential,” said Elisa Gambaro, a scholar at the University of Milan. As a result, fiction that is commercially successful is often disparaged.

But some women say it should be the other way around.

“To put it bluntly, women writers tend to be less self-referential, because they’re less used to thinking of themselves as the center of the world,” said Brogi, the contemporary literature scholar at the University for Foreigners of Siena. She said women developed literary language to make themselves better understood — and incidentally, easier to translate — because they were so often ignored. It was a condition, she said, that Ferrante had eloquently coined as “smarginatura,” or, roughly put, being pushed to the margins.

But this new crop of women writers is pushing toward the center.

“We are standing up for each other, and calling out the double standards,” Durastanti said. “This sense of sisterhood wasn’t there a few years ago.”

Terranova said the results were already there to see.

“Italy always had great women writers,” she said. “The truly new thing is that, for the first time, they’re getting recognition.”

Correction: Dec. 9, 2019An earlier version of this article misstated the setting of the book “La Straniera.” It is between Brooklyn and Basilicata, not Brooklyn and Abruzzo.

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North Korea Calls Trump a ‘Heedless and Erratic Old Man’

SEOUL, South Korea — North Korea called President Trump a “heedless and erratic old man” on Monday, after the American leader warned that the North’s leader, Kim Jong-un, could lose “everything” if he resumed military provocations like nuclear or long-range missile tests before next year’s United States elections.

Kim Yong-chol, a hard-liner who speaks for the North Korean military, issued a statement criticizing Mr. Trump hours after the American leader warned on Twitter on Sunday that Kim Jong-un had “far too much to lose, everything actually, if he acts in a hostile way.”

Mr. Trump also ​warned that the North Korean leader should not “void his special relationship with the President of the United States or interfere with the U.S. Presidential Election in November” by resuming ​hostile acts.

His tweets came after North Korea announced on Sunday that it had carried out a “very important test” at its missile-engine test site. Analysts said the test probably involved a new type of booster engine that could be used to propel a satellite-delivery rocket or an intercontinental ballistic missile.

Kim Yong-chol, who is chairman of the North’s Asia-Pacific Peace Committee, said in response to the president’s comments that “Trump has too many things that he does not know about” North Korea, according to the North’s official Korean Central News Agency. “We have nothing more to lose.”

The North Korean official also said​ that​ Mr. Trump’s latest tweets showed that ​the president was “an old man bereft of patience.” He accused Mr. Trump of ​trying to buy time before the Dec. 31 deadline set by Kim Jong-un for Washington to return to the negotiating table with concessions including the lifting of United Nations sanctions.

“As he is such a heedless and erratic old man, the time when we cannot but call him a ‘dotard’ again may come,” Kim Yong-chol said, referring to personal insults and threats of nuclear war that ​Kim Jong-un and Mr. Trump exchanged two years ago.

In 2017, amid escalating nuclear tensions between Washington and Pyongyang, Mr. Trump threatened to “totally destroy North Korea” if it threatened the United States, and called Kim Jong-un a “little rocket man” on a “suicide mission.” Mr. Kim retorted​ by calling Mr. Trump “a mentally deranged U.S. dotard.”

Kim Yong-chol’s attack on Mr. Trump underscores how sharply bilateral ties between the countries have cooled in recent months.

He visited Mr. Trump at the White House in June 2018 and again in January this year to deliver letters written to the president by Mr. Kim. In the months after ​Mr. Trump and Kim Jong-un held their first summit meeting in Singapore in June 2018 to discuss ending North Korea’s nuclear weapons program, ​the American leader said he and the North Korean leader “fell in love.” And even as subsequent talks stalled over wide differences ​on how to achieve denuclearization, Mr. Trump has continued to claim a “good relationship” with Mr. Kim.

But he has also revived his old taunting remarks of Mr. Kim in recent weeks, calling him a “rocket man.” Last week, while urging North Korea to keep its promise to denuclearize, Mr. Trump warned that the United States would use military force if it had to.

In their statements of recent weeks, North Korean officials have also become increasingly frosty toward Mr. Trump.

On Thursday, North Korea’s first vice foreign minister, Choe Son-hui, said that Mr. Trump’s use of the “rocket man” moniker was a sign of “the relapse of the dotage of a dotard.”

Kim Jong-un himself has not revived his personal insults against Mr. Trump. But that could change if Mr. Trump reiterated his threatening remarks, North Korea said on Monday.

North Korean officials have warned that their government might end its self-imposed moratorium on intercontinental ballistic missile and nuclear tests if Washington does not meet Mr. Kim’s Dec. 31 deadline. A vice foreign minister of North Korea warned last week that it was up to Washington to decide what kind of “Christmas gift” it would receive from Pyongyang.

On Monday, Kim Yong-chol, the North Korean official, warned that the United States should be ready to be “surprised.”

Kim Yong-chol and the North’s military favor holding onto its nuclear arsenal despite the United Nations sanctions that have hurt the country’s economy, said Cheong Seong-chang, a senior North Korea analyst at the Sejong Institute in South Korea.

“The key elite members like him may not have much to lose even if North Korea becomes more isolated and the economic situation worsens as a result of the collapse of North Korea-U.S. talks,” Mr. Cheong said. “But the North Korean people will face a much worse economic situation than now.”


‘I Have Told Everything,’ Says Whistle-Blower in China Crackdown

LONDON — A Uighur woman living in the Netherlands said on Saturday that she helped publicize secret Chinese government documents that shed light on how Beijing runs mass detention camps holding Muslim ethnic minorities.

She recounted how she lived in fear after she and her former husband received death threats and were contacted by Chinese security officers while journalists were preparing to report on the documents.

Asiye Abdulaheb, 46, said in a telephone interview that she was involved in the release of 24 pages of documents published by Western news outlets last month, and was speaking out now to protect herself and her family from retaliation.

The documents, obtained by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists and examined by journalists around the world, followed an earlier leak of 403 pages of internal papers to The New York Times that described how the authorities created, managed and justified the continuing crackdown on one million or more ethnic Uighurs and Kazakhs.

A Dutch newspaper, De Volkskrant, first reported on Ms. Abdulaheb’s role in the dissemination of that second set of documents, based on interviews with her and her ex-husband, Jasur Abibula. Both are Dutch citizens who have lived in the Netherlands since 2009, and they have a 6-year-old daughter and an 8-year-old son.

Ms. Abdulaheb said in an hourlong interview in Mandarin Chinese with The Times that she had decided to speak out in the hopes that the publicity would dissuade the Chinese authorities from seeking to harm her or her family.

She said they already knew she had the documents, and she had told Dutch police officers about her situation. She added that the danger of her situation became evident after her husband returned from a trip to Dubai in mid-September during which Chinese security officers told him about the documents, interrogated him about Ms. Abdulaheb and tried to recruit him to spy on her.

“I thought that this thing has to be made public,” she said. “The Chinese police would definitely find us. The people in Dubai had told my ex-husband, ‘We know about all your matters. We have a lot of people in the Netherlands.’”

Ms. Abdulaheb said she had worked in government offices in Xinjiang, a vast northwestern region of China where the official crackdown on Muslims has taken place, but declined to go into detail.

In the interview Saturday, she confirmed that she received and helped leak the 24 pages, but she declined to explain who had sent her the documents. She said Chinese officers had told Mr. Abibula they wanted to find out who had passed her the material.

The Times was part of the group coordinated by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, an independent nonprofit based in Washington, that reported on the second set of leaked documents on Xinjiang.

Ms. Abdulaheb said someone electronically sent her the 24 pages of internal Chinese documents in June.

“When I got the documents and looked at them, I concluded this was very important,” she said. “I thought the best thing to do was to put them out publicly.”

After she posted a screenshot of one page of the documents on Twitter, hoping to draw attention, a German researcher on Xinjiang, Adrian Zenz, and another expert on the region reached out to her. They then put her in touch with a journalist, she said.

The International Consortium of Investigative Journalists later partnered with 17 other organizations, including The Times, to publish revelations on internment camps based on the 24-page set of documents.

That article came a week after The Times published a report based on 403 leaked pages that shed light on the origins and expansion of the crackdown in Xinjiang. The Times report said the source of its documents was a member of the Chinese political establishment who requested anonymity.

In a statement Saturday, the consortium declined to say whether Ms. Abdulaheb was the source for its report. “ICIJ does not comment on its sources,” it said. It also reported that Mr. Zenz said Saturday that he did not give the documents to ICIJ.

The two exposés sharpened international debate over the Chinese government’s intense crackdown across the region. Since 2017, the Chinese Communist Party has overseen a wave of mass detentions in Xinjiang, driving one million or more members of largely Muslim minority groups, especially Uighurs, into indoctrination camps intended to drastically weaken their Islamic beliefs and their attachment to the Uighur language, and make them loyal to the party.

Initially, Chinese officials brushed away questions and reports about the detentions. But late last year, Beijing shifted its response: The Chinese authorities have since acknowledged the existence of the program, but defended the camps as job-training centers that teach the Mandarin Chinese language and practical skills, and that also warn people of the dangers of religious extremism.

In past decades, tensions between largely Muslim ethnic minorities and China’s Han ethnic majority in Xinjiang have occasionally erupted in violence. About half the region’s population is made up of minority groups, including 11.7 million Uighurs and 1.6 million Kazakhs. Both groups’ languages and cultures set them apart from Han people.

In 2009, the year Ms. Abdulaheb left China, ethnic rioting erupted in Urumqi, the regional capital of Xinjiang, and nearly 200 people were killed, most of them Han, according to government reports. China has cited that bloodshed and a succession of subsequent attacks on Han targets to defend its tough policies in Xinjiang.

The leaks have challenged the official Chinese position by revealing the coercive underpinnings of the camps, and by hinting at dissent within the Chinese political system over the harsh policies in Xinjiang. Chinese government spokesmen and official media outlets have denounced the reports, calling them “fake news” and claiming they were part of a conspiracy to undermine stability in the region.

In the Netherlands, Ms. Abdulaheb discovered that several of her social media accounts and a Hotmail account were hacked after she posted the tweet in June with the excerpt from the documents.

She said she also got a message written in Uighur on Facebook Messenger that said, “If you don’t stop, you’ll end up cut into pieces in the black trash can in front of your doorway.”

“That made me scared,” she said.

Then in early September, an old friend of her ex-husband, someone who worked in a court in Xinjiang, contacted him after a long period of silence, Ms. Abdulaheb said. The friend invited Mr. Abibula to Dubai and offered to pay his expenses. He flew to Dubai on Sept. 9 and was met by his friend and several Chinese security officers who were ethnic Han, she said.

After days of questioning Mr. Abibula, the officers handed him a USB stick and told him to put it into his ex-wife’s laptop, which would give them access to the computer’s contents, she said.

Ms. Abdulaheb’s description of harassment and threats could not be independently verified. Still, her account fit a pattern that other Uighurs abroad have described. They have also recounted threats and pressure coming from China to remain silent or provide information to agents.

Despite such threats, growing numbers of Uighurs and Kazakhs have spoken out, often using Twitter and Facebook to publicize family members in Xinjiang who have disappeared, possibly into re-education camps or prisons. A Uighur-American woman in the Washington area, Rushan Abbas, told The Times about family members who had gone missing after she had spoken publicly about the camps.

In an interview Saturday, Mr. Zenz, the researcher, said that for Ms. Abdulaheb, “going public makes her safer” from potential retaliation.

“So if something happens to her now, it will become a new story,” Mr. Zenz said. “Silence would have been so much worse.”

Ms. Abdulaheb said she felt relieved to have revealed her identity.

“I have told everything,” she said. “My mind is calm now.”

Elian Peltier and Claire Moses reported from London, and Edward Wong from Washington.


Facing Criticism Over Muslim Camps, China Says: What’s the Problem?

BEIJING — On Twitter and YouTube, with slick videos and strident editorials, the Chinese government has gone on the offensive to reject mounting evidence that it is detaining Muslims in droves, depicting its critics as players in a Western conspiracy.

China’s aggressive media campaign comes after exposés published by the The New York Times and the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists about the government’s drive to detain a million or more members of largely Muslim minority groups in indoctrination camps. The reports, which used leaked official documents to reveal the coercive workings of the camps in the northwestern region of Xinjiang, sharpened international criticism of China’s ruling Communist Party.

The pushback from China has escalated in recent days after the United States House of Representatives last week overwhelmingly supported a bill that could impose sanctions on Chinese officials overseeing the internment drive.

Chinese officials have accused Western lawmakers, experts and news outlets of maligning the government’s policies and stirring ethnic discord in Xinjiang.

At a news conference in Beijing on Monday, Shohrat Zakir, the chairman of the Xinjiang government, dismissed the congressional bill as “crude meddling in China’s internal affairs.”

He sought to foil the criticism by saying that the facilities — which Beijing calls vocational training centers — were now holding only people who were there voluntarily. Others who were previously in the facilities had “graduated,” he said, providing no specifics and declining to say whether they had been released.

He would not say how many people were currently or previously held. Uighurs and Kazakhs abroad have said they have seen no evidence of large-scale releases.

Beijing’s case appears unlikely to win over experts who include officials from the United Nations. An abundance of evidence shows that the authorities have pursued a sweeping campaign to detain Uighurs and Kazakhs in camps designed to turn them into loyal supporters of the Communist Party.

Maya Wang, a senior China researcher for Human Rights Watch who has closely studied Xinjiang, said the party’s claims lacked credibility. “This comes from a government that pretty much lies about most reports coming from the region,” she said.

“If the Chinese government has indeed released people from the camps,” she added, “then it should allow independent observers, including from the United Nations, to enter the region without any kind of restrictions to see for themselves.”

Beijing has said that its policies in Xinjiang are aimed at curbing extremism and have pulled the region back from bloody anarchy. The latest media campaign reflects the government’s confidence that its narrative could undermine independent Western analysis and news reports on the region, and perhaps blunt the push in some countries to censure China over the hard-line policies.

On Twitter and in Chinese newspapers, Chinese commentators have accused prominent Western scholars of serving as tools of American intelligence agencies regarding Xinjiang. Twitter is banned within China, but that does not stop the government and its supporters from using the platform to make their case that the camps have stamped out attacks in Xinjiang.

The Global Times, a newspaper owned by the Chinese Communist Party, published an interview with a regional government spokesman who said that two prominent foreign experts on Xinjiang, Adrian Zenz and Darren Byler, were cooperating with “anti-China forces in the U.S. to smear China’s Xinjiang policies.”

Mr. Byler, a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Colorado Boulder, and Mr. Zenz, a senior fellow in China Studies at the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation in Washington, said the attack on them seemed to reflect growing anxiety among Chinese officials that they were losing the international argument over the camps.

“Painting me and Darren Byler as intelligence agents is a very poorly done, crude, smearing counterattack,” Mr. Zenz said. “I think it’s very unconvincing. People are not believing them anymore.”

Not all of China’s media offensive has dwelled on the claims of success in Xinjiang. China’s state-run international broadcaster, CGTN, posted several English-language videos on YouTube featuring footage of what it said were earlier attacks by Uighurs swept up in extremism and separatist movements.

The government showed one of the videos to journalists on Monday that included gruesome scenes from a 2014 attack by Uighur militants at a railway station in Kunming, in southwestern China, that killed 31 people and injured 141 others.

“The horrific images and alarming number of violent crimes reveal the seriousness of the security situation in China’s western frontier,” the English-language voice-over says. “Chinese police have identified Xinjiang as a key battlefield.”

Mr. Byler said the videos could help deflect criticism of the detentions by playing on exaggerated fears that Uighurs are susceptible to becoming terrorists. But the videos avoid fundamental questions about whether the scale of the government’s response is appropriate, he said.

“They are missing that point where they go from ‘This handful of people did bad things’ to ‘We need to lock up 1.8 million or however many people are estimated in camps,’” Mr. Byler said.

Former camp detainees who have left China have described numbing, harsh and even brutal treatment inside the facilities. Detainees are subject to constant indoctrination that warns them to renounce religious fervor and support the Communist Party. They are forced to study Chinese, memorize laws, practice marching and learn skills for factory work.

Legal experts have said that even under China’s sweeping powers of detention, there is no sound backing for the camps, which subject inmates to months or years of detention without trial or effective means of appeal. Last month, six experts and officials on United Nations human rights panels also criticized the regulations that China has cited to justify the mass detentions, saying that the rules were “incompatible with China’s obligations under international human rights law.”

China has also continued to put tremendous pressure on former detainees and other Uighurs who have spoken out about the campaign from abroad. Asiye Abdulaheb, a Uighur woman in the Netherlands who said she was involved in the release of the 24 pages of documents published by news outlets last month, has described being harassed and threatened.

“The Chinese police would definitely find us,” she said in an interview on Saturday. She described Chinese security officers as telling her ex-husband: “We know about all your matters. We have a lot of people in the Netherlands.”

Zoe Mou contributed research.


Italy investigates Maltese prof implicated in Russia probe

ROME (AP) — Prosecutors in Sicily are investigating suspected embezzlement by a mysterious Maltese academic who has been linked to a U.S. probe of hacked emails.

Agrigento Prosecutor Salvatore Vella said by telephone Monday that his office is investigating Joseph Mifsud for suspected embezzlement of at least 100,000 euros ($110,000) in connection with his role at a local public university.

Mifsud apparently disappeared in 2017. Vella says his office, which needs to formally notify the professor that he is under investigation, hasn’t been able so far to locate him.

U.S. prosecutors have alleged that a campaign adviser to U.S. President Donald Trump had learned from Mifsud about stolen emails that figured in the FBI’s probe into alleged hacking by Russia.

Last year, in a separate probe in Sicily, a Palermo-based auditors’ court ordered Mifsud to return nearly 50,000 euros in over payments in connection with his university role.