South Korea Wages ‘All-Out Responses’ To Virus With 376 New Cases

South Korean medical workers wearing protective gear visit a residence of people with suspected symptoms of the COVID-19 coronavirus to take samples, near the Daegu branch of the Shincheonji Church of Jesus in Daegu on February 27, 2020. Jung Yeon-je / AFP



South Korean President Moon Jae-in said Sunday the government was waging “all-out responses” to contain the novel coronavirus as the country reported 376 new cases, taking the total to 3,526.

South Korea has the largest national total in the world outside China, after it saw a rapid surge in the number of coronavirus cases in recent days.

Scores of events have been cancelled or postponed over the contagion, while the country’s central bank has warned of a minus growth in the first quarter for the world’s 12th-largest economy, noting the epidemic will hit both consumption and exports.

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“The government is now waging all-out responses after raising the crisis alert to the highest level,” Moon said at an Independence Movement Day ceremony, scaled-down due to the outbreak.

“We will be able to overcome the COVID-19 outbreak and revive our shrunken economy,” he added.

Samsung Electronics suspended operations at its domestic smartphone plant in Gumi — 200 kilometres (210 miles) southeast of Seoul — on Saturday for the second time in a week, after a third employee tested positive for the virus.

Auto giant Hyundai Motor also stopped operations at one of its Ulsan plants after an employee tested positive for the coronavirus.

Concerts by K-pop superstars BTS and the World Team Table Tennis Championships were among cancelled events, while sports leagues have modified their seasons to contain the virus.

K-pop star CHUNG HA was placed in self-quarantine when a member of her staff tested positive after visiting Italy last month, Yonhap news agency reported. The singer tested negative.


Nearly 90 percent of the cases were in Daegu, the centre of the country’s outbreak, and neighbouring North Gyeongsang province, the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said in a statement. The country’s death toll remains at 17.

South Korea has an advanced health system and a free media, factors observers say improve the reliability of its statistics, with the numbers expected to rise as it checks more than 260,000 people associated with the Shincheonji Church of Jesus.

A 61-year-old female member developed a fever on February 10, but attended at least four church services in Daegu — the country’s fourth-largest city with a population of 2.5 million — before being diagnosed.

Around 60 percent of the cases were linked to the entity, the KCDC said.

“Until now, the COVID-19 outbreak in the country has been excessively led by a specific group,” said KCDC vice-director Kwon Jun-wook.

Shincheonji apologised Sunday on behalf of its members who had kept their religion secret, adding: “It will be hard for our devotees to reveal their identity when political leaders… are recklessly criticising Shincheonji as the epicentre.”

Daegu has filed a police complaint against the local branch of the sect for submitting an incomplete list of its members, while other provincial governments have warned of taking similar action.

The city’s streets have been largely deserted for days, aside from long queues at the few shops with masks for sale, with authorities urging the public to exercise caution.

“The best way to prevent the COVID-19 is for the citizens to refrain from going outside,” said Daegu mayor Kwon Young-jin.

But officials say they are not considering a citywide quarantine similar to Wuhan’s lockdown, where the virus first emerged.

The new school term start has been delayed one week nationwide and three weeks in Daegu, while the US and South Korean militaries have postponed forthcoming joint exercises.


Seoul Says Trump Sent Birthday Greetings To N. Korea’s Kim



US President Donald Trump wished North Korea’s Kim Jong Un a happy birthday, Seoul said Friday — with nuclear talks deadlocked and six years after former Chicago Bulls star Dennis Rodman serenaded Pyongyang’s leader.

North Korea has never officially confirmed Kim’s age or date of birth, but Rodman’s breathy Marilyn Monroe-style performance of “Happy Birthday” took place before an exhibition basketball match in Pyongyang on January 8, 2014.

In a sanctions document, the US Treasury has said Kim was born on that day in 1984, which would make him 36, but there is speculation he could be a year or two older.

Seoul’s national security adviser Chung Eui-yong met Trump in Washington on Wednesday and said the former real estate mogul — who in warmer times proclaimed he and Kim had fallen in love — “recalled” it was his birthday.

“President Trump wished Chairman Kim Jong Un a happy birthday and asked President Moon to convey it to him,” Chung told reporters as he arrived back in South Korea on Friday.

The message was delivered “in an appropriate manner”, he added, without explaining how it had been transmitted.

Contacts between the two Koreas are at a standstill, with Pyongyang’s official media repeatedly excoriating the leadership in Seoul.

At a meeting of his ruling party in December, Kim declared an end to Pyongyang’s moratoriums on nuclear and intercontinental ballistic missile tests and threatened a demonstration of a “new strategic weapon” soon.

Trump and Kim have had three meetings since June 2018 but there has been little tangible progress in denuclearising North Korea.

At the 2014 event, Rodman, a heavily tattooed former NBA All-Star, sang the birthday song before the North Korean leader and his wife Ri Sol Ju, as the crowd clapped along.

It was Rodman’s fourth visit to North Korea and he appeared to bow to Kim.

North Korea Fires Unidentified Projectile, Says South Korea Military

This picture taken on July 25, 2019 and released by North Korea’s official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) on July 26 shows a new-type of tactical guided short-range missile being launched at an undisclosed location in North Korea. PHOTO: KCNA VIA KNS / AFP


North Korea fired an “unidentified projectile” on Thursday — the Thanksgiving holiday in the US — Seoul said, as nuclear talks between Pyongyang and Washington remain deadlocked.

The one-line announcement from the South’s Joint Chiefs of Staff did not immediately provide further details and came shortly after 3:00 am (0800 GMT) in Washington, DC on one of the US’ biggest annual holidays.

Thursday’s launch was the latest in a series of weapons tests by Pyongyang, which fired what it called two “super-large multiple rocket launcher” systems last month.

Japan’s Jiji Press quoted sources from the defence ministry in Tokyo saying two projectiles were launched from the North’s east coast, adding they appeared to be ballistic missiles — which Pyongyang is banned from firing under UN Security Council resolutions.

US President Donald Trump has played down the recent launches, repeatedly pointing to North Korea’s moratorium on nuclear tests and intercontinental ballistic missile launches as foreign policy successes for him.

But negotiations between Pyongyang and Washington have been gridlocked since a second summit between Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Hanoi in February collapsed without a deal.

North Korea is under multiple sets of international sanctions over its nuclear weapon and ballistic missile programmes and lifting some of them was a key demand at the Hanoi summit.

Earlier this month, Seoul and Washington said they would postpone planned joint military exercises to ease diplomacy with the North, an announcement Pyongyang dismissed.

North Korea has issued a series of increasingly assertive comments in recent weeks as its end-of-year deadline for the US to come up with a fresh offer approaches.

Trump hinted at the prospect of a fourth meeting with Kim in a tweet earlier this month, only to be rebuffed by the North, which said it had no interest in summits “that bring nothing to us.”


Fans, Celebrities Mourn Death Of K-Pop Star Sulli

This undated photo released by Yonhap in Seoul on October 14, 2019, shows Sulli, a former member of top South Korean girl group f(x). A popular K-pop star who had long been the target of abusive online comments was found dead at her home on October 14, South Korean police said.

Fans and fellow performers on Tuesday mourned the death of a K-pop star who had long been the target of online bullying, some calling for greater mental health support for those working in the country’s notoriously competitive show business industry. 

The body of Sulli, a former member of top girl group f(x), was discovered Monday by her manager at her home on the outskirts of Seoul.

“There has been no evidence of an outsider having broken in, or any other crimes committed by another person,” an official from Seongnam Sujeong Police Agency told AFP.

“Suicide is among the possible causes.”

Authorities said the 25-year-old had been suffering from “severe depression”.

South Korea has one of the world’s highest rates of suicide which, according to recent government figures, is among the top causes of death for those under 40.

“I wish I could hope for Sulli to be the last idol to die from suicide and mental illness,” tweeted one fan.

“But knowing how cruel society is, I can’t help but be afraid about who’s going to be the next one.”

Beneath the glitz and glamour, the K-pop industry is known for its cut-throat competitiveness, a lack of privacy, online bullying and relentless public pressure to maintain a wholesome image at all times and at any cost.

 Mental health taboo

K-pop stars like Sulli are picked up by agencies at a young age — usually in their early- or mid-teens — and their lives then taken over by gruelling singing and dancing training.

Taboos about mental illness dissuade many South Koreans from seeking help.

Sulli’s death echoes that of fellow K-pop star Jonghyun, who took his life in 2017 after battling with depression.

Both were members of the SM Entertainment stable, one of the country’s biggest talent agencies.

K-pop singer Goo Hara, a close friend of the late star, was also sent to hospital last year after a suspected suicide attempt. Goo had been abused by her ex who threatened to post her spycam sex vidoes online.

“I hope Jin-ri is now in a place where she can do whatever she wants,” Goo wrote on Instagram — using Sulli’s real name and sharing photos of the two of them together.

Sulli, who started her career as a child actress at age 11, made her debut in 2009 for f(x), which quickly became one of K-pop’s top girl groups.

Known for behaviour considered controversial in South Korea — including her refusal to wear a bra in public — she had been relentlessly bullied online throughout her career, with many sexually abusive comments.

She recently hosted a TV series where celebrities discussed their experiences of online abuse. She had also candidly shared her experience struggling with panic disorder and social phobia.

Her outspokenness resonated with many young South Korean women who have been leading a new wave of feminists fighting a patriarchal society obsessed with looks.

“Being one of the first female artists in K-pop to talk about mental health and feminism is amazing. I love you so much Sulli – I hope in heaven you are finally free,” a fan wrote in a tweet.


Volunteers In Santa Claus Outfits Flood Seoul Street On Christmas Eve

South Korean volunteers in Santa Claus outfits throw Santa hats during a ceremony before the delivery of Christmas gifts in Seoul on December 24, 2018. photo: Jung Yeon-je / AFP


Hundreds of volunteers in Seoul, the capital of South Korea, has flood the streets dressed in Santa Claus outfits.

The Seoul Santa Clauses are using the Christmas celebration to reach out to the less privileged, and to share love amongst the poor and the needy.

The volunteers will today, December 24 deliver Christmas gifts to 1,200 kids from 800 poor families in Seoul.

As an act of celebration, the Seoul Santa Clauses throw their hats into the air and dance before offering Christmas gifts to the children.

See photos below..

Seven Killed In Seoul Studio Complex Fire

A South Korean policeman stands guard outside the scene after a fire killed at least seven people in Seoul on November 9, 2018. Seven tenants were killed and 11 others injured early on November 9 when a blaze ripped through a three-storey studio complex in Seoul, fire authorities said.
Jung Yeon-je / AFP


Seven tenants were killed and 11 others injured early Friday when a blaze ripped through a three-storey studio complex in Seoul, fire authorities said.

While South Korea is technologically advanced and has risen to become the world’s 11th-largest economy, many people who have missed out on its progress struggle to get by.

Low-income tenants often live in buildings with tiny single-bed studios once favoured by applicants preparing for various state examinations and known as goshiwon, or exam centres.

The dead and injured were mostly casual labourers or street vendors in their 40s to 60s, living in the dilapidated building, which had no sprinklers, Yonhap news agency said.

“I heard screams and went out. Then I saw the building enveloped by a lot of smoke and flames,” a 61-year-old businessman living across the street told Yonhap.

With labyrinthine structures with narrow corridors, goshiwon buildings are notoriously vulnerable to blazes, with more than 250 breaking out over the past five years.


North Agrees To Inter-Korean Talks Next Week – Seoul

North Agrees To Inter-Korean Talks Next Week - Seoul
(Files) This photo taken on October 7, 2017 and released on October 8, 2017 by North Korea’s official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) shows North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un attending the Second Plenum of the 7th Central Committee of the Workers’ Party of Korea (WPK) in Pyongyang.


North Korea on Saturday agreed to hold high-level talks with Seoul next week to discuss logistics for a rare inter-Korean summit, the South’s Unification Ministry said, as a diplomatic thaw on the peninsula gathers pace.

The two sides will each send a three-member delegation to the border truce village of Panmunjom on Thursday for talks aimed at paving the way for a summit due in late April, it said.

South Korea on Wednesday had proposed holding high-level talks with the North to discuss details including the summit’s dates and agenda.

The talks will take place at the Unification Pavilion building on the northern side of Panmunjom, which sits on the border, with Seoul’s delegation led by Unification Minister Cho Myoung-gyon and his counterpart Ri Son Gwon heading Pyongyang’s.

The decision by President Moon Jae-in and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un to meet came amid a rapid rapprochement kicked off with the recent Winter Olympics in the South.

The United States and South Korea announced Tuesday that their annual joint military drills would go ahead next month, but the main exercise will be shortened by a month. The exercises have caused tensions for years, with Pyongyang condemning them as preparations for an invasion of the North.

The inter-Korean summit is due to be followed by a face-to-face meeting between US President Donald Trump and Kim by the end of May.

– ‘Humiliation and defeat’ –

Following a period of heightened tensions stoked by the North’s nuclear and missile tests last year, a rapid rapprochement has been underway on the Korean peninsula.

The North on Wednesday broke its silence on the diplomatic thaw with Washington and Seoul, with its official KCNA news agency saying Pyongyang was driving the peace initiative and rejecting suggestions that sanctions forced it to dialogue table.

As diplomats scurry to arrange the North-South talks as well as the proposed Trump-Kim meeting, the North’s silence has raised concerns over its intentions.

North Korean state media have not yet directly mentioned the summits.

Analysts say the North is carefully watching to see how events — including the US-South Korea military drills — play out before making them public to its people.

State media in the North have not reported any public activities by Kim since March 6, when they said he held talks with South Korean envoys and made a “satisfactory agreement” on the proposed inter-Korean summit.

On Friday, Rodong Sinmun, the official daily of the North’s ruling Workers Party, attacked the US for continued sanctions and pressure on Pyongyang despite diplomatic progress.

“The good atmosphere appearing on the Korean peninsula has been created by our aggressive efforts and initiatives. It has not been brought about by sanctions by the US and its sycophants,” the newspaper said

“The United States has miscalculated. The stronger the US pressure, the stronger the DPRK (North Korea)… If the US fails to draw a lesson and continues acting recklessly, it would surely be in for a greater humiliation and defeat.”

The commentary came as President Trump named John Bolton, a foreign policy hawk, as his new national security adviser.

Bolton, a former US ambassador to the United Nations, has championed pre-emptive strikes against North Korea and regime change in Iran — making him an outlier even among Republicans.

Chinese, S. Korean Envoys To Discuss North In Seoul

China will send a special envoy to Seoul to discuss the situation on the Korean peninsula ahead of proposed talks between North and South Korea, the foreign ministry said Thursday.

China’s Vice Foreign Minister Kong Xuanyou will visit Friday and Saturday to “exchange views” with Lee Do-Hoon, Seoul’s envoy on Korean peninsula peace talks, a ministry spokesman said.

Their meeting comes as South Korea prepares for its proposed high-level talks with North Korea next Tuesday to discuss “matters of mutual interest” including the North’s participation in next month’s Pyeongchang Winter Olympics.

North Korea has rattled the international community in recent months with multiple missile launches and its sixth and most powerful nuclear test — purportedly of a hydrogen bomb.

It has shrugged off a raft of new sanctions and heightened rhetoric from Washington as it drives forward with its weapons programme, which it says is for defence against US aggression.

But the new year has begun on a more positive note with the two Koreas on Wednesday restoring a cross-border hotline that had been shut down since 2016, after North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un offered to send a team to the Winter Olympics hosted by the South in February.

The Olympic offer prompted Seoul to respond with its offer for talks next week — the first since 2015.

A six-nation effort to dismantle North Korea’s nuclear programmes was begun in 2003, bringing together the US, both Koreas, Russia and Japan.

North Korea pledged to give up those programmes in 2005, but carried out its first atomic blast the following year. It walked out of the talks three years later, detonating its second device soon afterwards.


Seoul Seizes Panama Vessel For Alleged N. Korea Ties – Report

South Korea has seized a Panama-flagged ship suspected of transferring oil products to North Korea in breach of UN sanctions, a report said Sunday.

The 5,100-tonne KOTI was detained two weeks ago at the South’s port of Pyeongtaek-Dangjin and its crew are being investigated over the alleged ship-to-ship transfers, Yonhap news agency cited local maritime officials as saying.

It was the second such seizure to be reported in days. The South Korean government announced Friday that it briefly seized and inspected a Hong Kong-registered ship in November for transferring oil products to a North Korean vessel.

The Panamanian tanker was banned from leaving port following a government meeting on December 21, the report said. Its crew — mostly from Myanmar and China — were being questioned by the customs office and the intelligence agency.

“The vessel is under inspection for alleged ties with North Korea,” a government official said, according to Yonhap.

Authorities were not immediately available for confirmation of the report.

The Hong Kong-registered Lighthouse Winmore, which was chartered by a Taiwanese company, was seized at the South’s port of Yeosu in November for allegedly transferring refined petroleum products to the North’s Sam Jong 2.

The UN Security Council has imposed three sets of sanctions on the North this year to try to halt its nuclear and ballistic missile tests.

One on August 5 targeted the iron, coal and fishing industries, another set on September 11 was aimed at textiles and restricting oil supplies, and the most recent on December 22 focused on refined petroleum products.

The Lighthouse Winmore visited Yeosu on October 11 and loaded some 14,000 tonnes of Japanese refined oil before heading towards its purported destination in Taiwan.

Instead of going to Taiwan, however, it transferred 600 tonnes of oil to the North’s Sam Jong 2 in international waters off China, South Korean customs service officials have said.

Four ships — three North Korean vessels and a Palau-flagged oil tanker — were blocked from international ports by the UN Security Council on Thursday on suspicion of carrying or transporting goods banned by the sanctions.

China has rejected accusations that it helped Pyongyang circumvent sanctions after US President Donald Trump claimed on Twitter that Beijing was turning a blind eye to oil transfers to North Korea.


North Used Wages For Weapons, Says South Korea  

koreaSouth Korea has accused its neighbour in the north of using 70% of wages earned by workers at a jointly-run industrial complex for its weapons programme and luxury goods for the elite.

Last week, Seoul suspended its operations at Kaesong following the North’s recent rocket and nuclear tests to cut off the money supply.

But the north has called the shutdown “a declaration of war”.

Kaesong was one of the last points of co-operation between the two Koreas.

The north reacted to the shutdown by expelling all South Koreans from the complex and freezing the assets of South Korean firms.

It has also vowed to cut key communication hotlines with the south.

Fugitive Union Leader Surrenders In South Korea

Fugitive Union Leader Surrenders In South KoreaPolice in South Korea have picked up a trade union leader taking refuge in a Buddhist temple in Seoul, the country’s capital.

The Head of the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions (KCTU), Han Sang-Gyun, surrendered to the police after a month of hiding.

According to BBC, the Police began an operation to enter the temple on Wednesday, but delayed it on the request of the monks.

The temple officials warned that it would be an act of religious persecution for security operatives to raid the temple.

“If the police raid the temple, it will be tantamount to a state clampdown on the Jogye Order and on the whole Buddhist movement in South Korea,” they said in a statement.

Mr Sang-Gyun was accused of inciting violence at an anti-government rally on November 14.

South North Korea Deal Agree To Reduce Tensions

North and South Korea agree to reduce tentionSouth Korea has halted its propaganda broadcasts into North Korea, as part of the agreement between the two countries to defuse tension.

Landmine blasts, loudspeakers blaring propaganda, an exchange of artillery fire and threats of more hostilities had put both sides on edge along the Demilitarised Zone (DMZ), the world’s most heavily fortified border.

But after marathon talks between high-level officials, the two bitter foes said in the early hours of Tuesday that they had found enough common ground to dial back the situation.

Seoul had begun the loudspeaker propaganda broadcasts, which infuriates Pyongyang, after a landmine at the border injured two of its soldiers earlier this month.

The truce was reached after the North, which initially denied planting the mine, agreed to express “regret”.

The late-night agreement came after high-level talks at the “truce village” of Panmunjom inside the DMZ.

The North agreed to end its “semi-state of war”, and pull back troops deployed to the frontline.

Both countries have also agreed to work towards a resumption of reunions for families separated during the 1950-53 Korean war.

The agreement “reduces the risk of a miscalculation with so many forces on the ground there and room for an error,” the Executive Director of the Ploughshares Fund, Philip Yun, said.

“This is really good news over the short term”, he added.

The Ploughshares Fund is a group that advocates nuclear disarmament.