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Chatter: Who's in charge of North Korea's army?

North Korea's top military man finds himself relieved of his duties, a disturbing pattern emerges in Syria, and Madonna irks the French far-right.
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Graphic. (Antler Agency/GlobalPost)
           

                      

   

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Need to know:
The head of North Korea's army has been removed from his post, apparently due to "illness."

Ri Yong Ho was, until yesterday, vice marshal and chief of general staff of the Korean People's Army. He also occupied several powerful political positions within the ruling party, and was considered a sort of mentor to the newly invested Kim Jong Un.

It has not been announced who will replace Ri, or whether someone already has.

State media put his abrupt departure down to unspecified health problems, but the surprise move has North Korea watchers wondering. Is it the start of a broader purge, a struggle for power, or a sign that Kim the younger wants to strike out on his own? 

Want to know:
Fresh fighting is reported in Damascus today, a day after the Syrian capital saw its worst violence yet in 16 months of unrest.

Activists describe heavy gun battles between government forces and rebels. They say hundreds of families have been forced to flee their neighborhoods in quest of safer areas.

On a much larger scale, displacement could be exactly what President Bashar al-Assad's supporters want. In interviews with GlobalPost, regime supporters, insiders and experts say describe a geographic pattern of attacks by forces loyal to the regime that are designed to drive Sunnis east and carve out a breakaway Allawite state.

Dull but important:
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is in Israel today, for talks on Syria, Iran and Egypt.

She's guaranteed a warmer welcome from the US ally than the one she received in Egypt. On a tour of Alexandria yesterday, Clinton's motorcade was pelted with shoes and tomatoes as anti-American protesters chanted "Leave, Clinton" and – making it personal – "Monica, Monica." Ouch.

Clinton will brief Israeli leaders on her presumably mixed impressions of the new Egypt, whose first democratically elected president, Mohamed Morsi, has pledged to abide by his country's peace treaty with Israel. 

Just because:
There's a new boss in charge at the African Union: South Africa's Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, who yesterday became the first woman ever to head the 54-nation bloc.

Dlamini-Zuma is the South African home affairs minister, a trained doctor and an ex-wife of President Jacob Zuma. She replaces Jean Ping of Gabon, after a long and divisive battle for the AU chairmanship.

The new chairwoman finally managed the two-thirds majority she needed, but she'll have to work hard to win over French-speaking members, who prefered Ping, and the smaller countries that accuse South Africa of dominating the continental bloc.

Strange but true:
There are many things France's far-right National Front doesn't like: immigrants, the establishment, Muslims, Europe, etc. And now, we can add Madonna to the list.

The Front plans to sue the Material Girl for superimposing a swastika over an image of party leader Marine Le Pen during her – Madonna's, that is – latest tour. With characteristic subtlety, Madonna also beams a picture of a Hitler-alike over the stage.

It's just another shock tactic from the singer to get people to talk about her. At least, so says the party bringing a highly publicized lawsuit in order to, ahem, get people to talk about its hype-hungry leader. Pot, kettle, black, anyone?

http://www.globalpost.com/dispatches/globalpost-blogs/chatter/chatter-whos-charge-north-koreas-army