- As Arkansas prepares for flurry of executions despite legal challenges
US Vice President Mike Pence is expected to reassure Japan of American commitment to reining in North Korea`s nuclear and missile ambitions on Tuesday, after warning that US strikes in Syria and Afghanistan showed the strength of its resolve.
Pence took off for Tokyo from a US air base south of Seoul, where he assured leaders of the “iron-clad” alliance with the United States. He also warned the reclusive North, which has conducted a series of missile and nuclear tests in defiance of UN sanctions, that the “era of strategic patience” was over.
He is expected to discuss Korean tensions with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, as well as hold economic talks with Finance Minister Taro Aso.
North Korea regularly threatens to destroy Japan, South Korea, and the United States and it showed no let-up in its defiance after a failed missile test on Sunday, a day after putting on a huge display of missiles in Pyongyang.
North Korea`s deputy representative to the United Nations, Kim In Ryong, accused the United States of creating “a situation where nuclear war could break out an any time” and said Pyongyang`s next nuclear test would take place “at a time and at a place where our headquarters deems necessary”.
North Korea`s Vice Foreign Minister Han Song-Ryol told the BBC that missiles would continue to be tested on “a weekly, monthly and yearly basis”.
South Korea`s acting president, Hwang Kyo-ahn, told a cabinet meeting on Tuesday that South Korea would strengthen its alliance with the United States and closely cooperate with China to rein in North Korea.
“We should stay on our toes to protect our territory and people`s lives,” Hwang said.
The North has warned of a nuclear strike against the United States if provoked. It has said it has developed a missile that can strike the mainland United States, but officials and experts believe it is some time away from mastering the necessary technology, including miniaturising a nuclear warhead.
In the meantime, Arkansas was battling on Monday night to keep to its plan to execute up to seven prisoners in 11 days on track, with a final appeal to the US supreme court to allow it to go ahead with what would be the most intense burst of judicial killing in the US in more than half a century.
The department of corrections said it was continuing to prepare for the execution of one of the prisoners, Don Davis, on Monday night, should the nation’s top court give the green light. But the Arkansas attorney general’s office confirmed that it had given up the fight to carry out a controversial double execution, conceding that a second inmate, Bruce Ward, would not be put on the gurney that evening.
Ward was protected by a separate stay on grounds of mental illness, a roadblock to carrying out the lethal injection in his case that the state accepted it could not overcome in time to meet the scheduled execution date.
The Republican governor, Asa Hutchinson, was buoyed on Monday evening by a ruling from the eighth circuit appeals court in St Louis, Missouri, which overturned an earlier temporary injunction imposed by a federal judge. That opens up the possibility that at least six executions might still go ahead between now and 30 April when a batch of the sedative midazolam acquired by the state to kill prisoners expires.
However, the attorney general, Leslie Rutledge, has asked the US supreme court to allow the Davis execution to proceed in a move that has been counter-challenged by the condemned inmate’s attorneys. Asked whether the Davis execution could still take place according to schedule, a spokesman for the department of corrections said: “Never say never.”
The state was still pressing forward with moves to prepare Davis for death on Monday. The prisoner has been transferred from his supermax prison to the Cummins unit in south-west Arkansas that houses the death chamber and on Monday afternoon was offered a final meal of fried chicken, great northern beans, mashed potatoes, fruit punch, and strawberry cake for dessert.
Families of Davis’ victim, Jane Daniel, 62, who he murdered in her home in Rogers, Arkansas, in 1990, were also brought to the prison to be ready to witness his demise should the execution go ahead.
“We’re in place and ready to go for whatever the court rules,” a spokesman for Hutchinson said.
Zee with additional report from Guardian