Trump ‘Offered Kim Jong Un A Ride Home On Air Force One’

US President Donald Trump (R) and North Korea’s leader Kim Jong Un shake hands following a signing ceremony during their historic US-North Korea summit, at the Capella Hotel on Sentosa island in Singapore on June 12, 2018. PHOTO: SAUL LOEB / AFP

 

 

Donald Trump offered North Korean leader Kim Jong Un a ride home on Air Force One after a summit in Hanoi two years ago, according to a new BBC documentary.

Kim and Trump first engaged in a war of words and mutual threats, before an extraordinary diplomatic bromance that featured headline-grabbing summits and a declaration of love by the former US president.

But no substantive progress was made, with the process deadlocked after the pair’s meeting in Hanoi broke up over sanctions relief and what Pyongyang would be willing to give up in return.

According to a BBC documentary, “Trump Takes on the World”, the US president “stunned even the most seasoned diplomats” by offering Kim a lift home on Air Force One after the 2019 summit in Vietnam.

If Kim had accepted the offer, it would have put the North Korean leader — and probably some of his entourage — inside the US president’s official aircraft and seen it enter North Korean airspace, raising multiple security issues.

In the event, Kim turned it down.

“President Trump offered Kim a lift home on Air Force One,” Matthew Pottinger, the top Asia expert on Trump’s National Security Council, told the BBC, it reported at the weekend.

“The president knew that Kim had arrived on a multi-day train ride through China into Hanoi and the president said: ‘I can get you home in two hours if you want.’ Kim declined.”

For his first summit with Trump in Singapore in 2018, Kim hitched a ride on an Air China plane, with Beijing keen to keep North Korea — whose existence as a buffer state keeps US troops in the South well away from China’s borders — firmly within its sphere of influence.

During the Singapore summit, Trump gave Kim a glimpse inside his presidential state car — a $1.5 million Cadillac also known as “The Beast” — in a show of their newly friendly rapport.

But last month Kim said the US was his nuclear-armed nation’s “biggest enemy”, adding that Washington’s “policy against North Korea will never change” no matter “who is in power”.

North Korean official media have yet to refer to Joe Biden — who beat Trump in last year’s election — by name as US president.

North Korea’s Kim Vows To Strengthen Nuclear Arsenal

 

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un pledged to strengthen his country’s nuclear arsenal as he delivered his closing address to a top ruling party meeting, state television showed Wednesday, days before Joe Biden takes office as US president.

Kim is looking to grab the attention of the incoming Biden administration, analysts say, with his country more isolated than ever after closing its borders to protect itself against the coronavirus pandemic.

A nuclear summit between Kim and outgoing US President Donald Trump in Hanoi in February 2019 broke down over sanctions relief and what Pyongyang would be willing to give up in return.

In this file photo taken on June 30, 2019, US President Donald Trump and North Korea's leader Kim Jong-un stand on North Korean soil while walking to South Korea in the Demilitarized Zone(DMZ), in Panmunjom, Korea. Brendan Smialowski / AFP
In this file photo taken on June 30, 2019, US President Donald Trump and North Korea’s leader Kim Jong-un stand on North Korean soil while walking to South Korea in the Demilitarized Zone(DMZ), in Panmunjom, Korea. Brendan Smialowski / AFP

 

“While strengthening our nuclear war deterrent, we need to do everything in order to build the most powerful military,” Kim told the Workers’ Party congress, footage broadcast on Korea Central Television showed.

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Thousands of delegates and attendees — none of them wearing masks — repeatedly rose to their feet in the cavernous April 25 House of Culture venue to interrupt his speech with applause.

Earlier in the eight-day meeting, which has lasted twice as long as the previous gathering in 2016, Kim called the US “the fundamental obstacle to the development of our revolution and our foremost principal enemy”.

Its policy towards the North “will never change, whoever comes into power”, he added, without mentioning Biden by name.

The North had completed plans for a nuclear-powered submarine, he said — a strategic game-changer — and offered a shopping list including hypersonic gliding warheads, military reconnaissance satellites and solid-fuel intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs).

The North’s weapons programmes have made rapid progress under Kim, and at a parade in October it showed off a huge new ICBM that analysts said was the largest road-mobile, liquid-fuelled missile in the world.

The change of leadership in Washington presents a challenge for Pyongyang: Biden is associated with the Obama administration’s “strategic patience” approach and characterised Kim as a “thug” during the presidential debates.

The North, meanwhile, has called Biden a “rabid dog” that “must be beaten to death with a stick”.

Kim and Trump had a tumultuous relationship, engaging in mutual insults and threats of war before an extraordinary diplomatic bromance featuring headline-grabbing summits and declarations of love by the outgoing US president.

Kim’s latest comments built on his rhetoric earlier in the congress while leaving a door open for dialogue, said Hong Min of the Korea Institute for National Unification in Seoul.

“It is a message to the US that it will continue to build up its strategic arsenal unless the US changes its course on North Korea policy,” he told AFP.

“If Washington treats it nicely, it will act nice, but if it treats it harshly, it will act harshly too.”

– ‘Senseless’ –
The congress is the top ruling party gathering, a grand political set-piece that reinforces the regime’s authority and can serve as a platform for announcements of policy shifts or elite personnel changes.

At the gathering, Kim was named the party General Secretary, a title previously reserved for his father and predecessor Kim Jong Il, in what analysts said was a move to reinforce his authority.

The official KCNA news agency reported that the congress will be followed on Sunday by a meeting of the Supreme People’s Assembly, the North’s rubber-stamp legislature.

The North’s economy is struggling in the face of its self-imposed coronavirus blockade, chronic mismanagement and sanctions, and Kim repeatedly admitted to the party delegates that mistakes had been made.

And his influential sister and close adviser Kim Yo Jong indicated that a military parade had been scheduled to accompany the congress.

In a statement carried by KCNA, she derided the “idiot” authorities in Seoul for a “senseless” declaration this week by the South’s joint chiefs of staff about a possible military parade in Pyongyang that she said demonstrated a “hostile attitude”.

“We are only holding a military parade in the capital city, not military exercises targeting anybody nor launch of anything.”

Kim Yo Jong had appeared to suffer a demotion at the party congress, not being listed as a party central committee appointee after previously being an alternate member.

But the issuing of a statement in her own name is an indication she remains a key player in the North’s diplomacy, having been behind its destruction of a liaison office on its side of the border last year.

The South’s President Moon Jae-in brokered the talks process between Kim and Trump, and said in his New Year address on Monday that Seoul remained willing to talk to Pyongyang “at any time and any place”, including online.

But since the process with Washington became deadlocked, the North has repeatedly said it has no interest in discussions with the South.

AFP

US Begins COVID-19 Vaccinations For Troops In South Korea

In a handout photo taken and released on December 29, 2020 by US Forces Korea, service members of the United States Forces Korea line up to receive a vaccine for the Covid-19 coronavirus at the Brian D. Allgood Army Community Hospital at US Army Garrison Humphreys in Pyeongtaek. (Photo by Handout / US FORCES KOREA / AFP)

 

The United States began a coronavirus vaccination campaign for its troops stationed in South Korea Tuesday as a third virus wave saw the host country record its highest daily death toll since the pandemic began.

US Forces Korea (USFK) administered initial doses of the Moderna vaccine for military and civilian healthcare workers, first responders and command staff across its medical treatment facilities in the country, it said in a statement.

Washington has around 28,500 troops stationed in South Korea to help it defend against the nuclear-armed North and protect US interests in north-east Asia.

Among the inoculated included USFK Commander Robert Abrams, who was pictured receiving the shot in a mask and a T-shirt emblazoned with “#KilltheVirus”.

The vaccination is voluntary but the USFK chief “strongly” encouraged American service members to receive it.

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“I want you to make an informed decision for you and your family regarding the vaccine,” he said in the statement.

South Korea is one of the four overseas locations to receive the Moderna vaccine, which won emergency use authorisation from the US Food and Drug Administration on December 18.

The inoculations came as a third wave of the virus grips the Asian country, with a resurgence centred on the greater Seoul area, which has seen daily cases climb to over 1,000 several times this month despite stricter measures.

The country reported 1,046 new cases and 40 deaths on Tuesday, its highest daily toll since it first identified an infection in January.

It has reported a total of 58,725 coronavirus cases.

South Korean President Moon Jae-in and Moderna CEO Stephane Bancel held a video call late Monday, agreeing that the company will supply vaccine doses for 20 million South Koreans in the second quarter of 2021, according to Moon’s office.

If the Moderna agreement is formally signed, South Korea will have enough vaccines for 56 million people, a surplus of four million on the country’s total population, it added.

It plans to launch the vaccination program in February.

South Korea has been praised as a model of how to combat the virus, with the public largely following official guidelines and authorities preventing a wider outbreak with an intensive “trace, test and treat” approach.

South Korea Detects First COVID-19 Variant Cases

A medical staff member wearing protective gear takes a swab from a visitor to test for the Covid-19 coronavirus at a temporary testing station outside the City Hall in Seoul on December 28, 2020. (Photo by Jung Yeon-je / AFP)

 

Three cases of a particularly infectious coronavirus variant that recently emerged in Britain have been confirmed in South Korea, health authorities said Monday.

The three individuals are members of a London-based family who arrived in the country on December 22, according to the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency.

They have been placed in isolation since testing positive for Covid-19 on arrival, the KDCA statement said.

The new strain of the virus emerged earlier this month in Britain and has already reached several European countries, as well as Canada, Jordan and Japan.

Last week London said another new variant of the virus was found in the country in cases linked to South Africa, which is the first African nation to record one million coronavirus cases.

The new strain, which experts fear is more contagious, prompted more than 50 countries to impose travel restrictions on Britain.

South Korea was among them and has barred flights from Britain until January 7.

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In addition, the country will make it mandatory for passengers travelling from Britain or South Africa to submit negative Covid-19 test results before departure, KDCA chief Jung Eun-kyeong said.

Authorities are also looking into the case of an elderly South Korean man who tested positive for Covid-19 after his body was returned from Britain earlier this month.

The announcement came as a third wave of the virus grips the country, with a resurgence centred on the greater Seoul area seeing daily cases climb to over 1,000 several times this month despite stricter distancing measures.

South Korea reported 808 new cases Monday, raising its national total to 57,680 with 819 deaths.

South Korea Bans Large Gatherings After COVID-19 Spike

Office workers and city government employees receive a covid-19 novel coronavirus test at a temporary testing centre outside city hall in Seoul on December 17, 2020. Ed JONES / AFP
Office workers and city government employees receive a covid-19 novel coronavirus test at a temporary testing centre outside city hall in Seoul on December 17, 2020. Ed JONES / AFP

 

South Korea banned gatherings of more than four people in the capital and surrounding areas Monday as the country recorded its highest daily coronavirus death toll since the epidemic began.

While South Korea has suffered relatively lightly compared to other nations, officials said a surge in infections had left hospitals in the capital region with a chronic shortage of intensive care beds.

The country reported 926 new coronavirus cases Monday, and the death toll was now at 698 after 24 people died in the past 24 hours — a record high since the emergence of the epidemic.

READ ALSO: Britain Holds Crisis Meeting Over COVID-19 Travel Ban

South Korea had previously been held up as a model of how to combat the virus, with the public largely following social distancing and other rules.

But a resurgence centred on the capital and surrounding areas has seen daily cases climb to over 1,000 several times in the past week, and acting mayor Seo Jung-hyup said there were only four empty beds left in intensive care units in Seoul.

At least two Seoul residents died of the disease while waiting to be hospitalised this month, according to city authorities.

Starting from Wednesday, Seoul and surrounding regions — home to half the country’s 52 million people — will ban most gatherings of five people or more for about two weeks, officials said.

The order applies to both indoors and outdoors, Seo said, adding the situation requires “extreme self-control, sacrifice, and patience”.

“If we do not tackle the explosive number of cases, what New York and London had to endure — empty streets and city lockdowns — can also happen in Seoul,” he said.

The latest spike came despite the government’s tightening of social distancing rules in the area earlier this month.

South Korea endured one of the worst early Covid-19 outbreaks outside mainland China, but brought it broadly under control with an intensive “trace, test and treat” approach.

The new measures are the strictest imposed in the country since the start of the epidemic, although the central government has yet to raise the nationwide alert level to the highest.

 

AFP

South Korea Reports Highest Number Of New COVID-19 Cases

Shoppers and delivery workers walk past a row of stalls closed following a Covid-19 coronavirus cluster there, at Namdaemun market in Seoul on December 11, 2020.
Ed JONES / AFP

 

South Korea on Saturday reported its highest daily number of coronavirus cases so far, with a surge centred on the capital region sparking fears the country could lose control of the spread.

Officials announced 950 new infections after several days reporting numbers ranging from about 500 to 600.

Some 669 were reported in the greater Seoul area on Saturday, according to the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency, prompting worries about a major outbreak in the densely populated area — home to half the country’s 52 million people.

“This is the last hurdle before the roll-out of vaccines and treatments,” President Moon Jae-in said in a statement, calling the situation “very grave”.

“The government will make utmost efforts using the full administrative power” to bring the spread under control, he added.

An additional 150 testing centres will be set up in areas with the heavy movement of people including train stations.

Officials said infections linked to a church and a hospital in the Seoul metropolitan area, as well as private gatherings, drove up the tally of cases.

The spike came despite the government’s tightening of social distancing rules in the capital area earlier this week.

The measures include a ban on gatherings of more than 50 people and spectators at sports events. Cafes can serve only takeaways, while restaurants must close by 9 pm, with only deliveries permitted afterwards.

 

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Despite the changes, “people’s movement has not been reduced significantly”, senior KDCA official Lim Sook-young told a news briefing.

“Infections from personal face-to-face meetings have been continuing… Please cancel all such meetings,” she said.

Saturday’s figure takes the total number of domestic recorded cases in the country to more than 36,800.

South Korea endured one of the worst early Covid-19 outbreaks outside mainland China, but brought it broadly under control with its “trace, test and treat” approach.

It never imposed the kind of lockdowns ordered in much of Europe and other parts of the world.

The country has previously been held up as a model of how to combat the pandemic, including by the World Health Organization.

The public has largely followed social distancing and other rules, such as wearing face masks.

-AFP

Sex Abuse Mastermind Jailed For 40 Years

Cho Ju-bin, a suspect who allegedly blackmailed women and minors to make sexually abusive videos and sold them, has his face go public outside Jongno Police Office in Seoul, Wednesday. Photo: Korea Times/Shim Hyun-chul
Cho Ju-bin, a suspect who allegedly blackmailed women and minors to make sexually abusive videos and sold them, has his face go public outside Jongno Police Office in Seoul, Wednesday. Photo: Korea Times/Shim Hyun-chul

 

The mastermind of a notorious online sex abuse ring was jailed for 40 years in South Korea on Thursday.

Cho Ju-bin, a 25-year-old college graduate, ran a group that blackmailed women and girls, including minors, into filming and sending sexual content. This was then posted in pay-to-view chatrooms on messaging app Telegram.

Cho was in charge of the group from last May to February this year, blackmailing 74 people, 16 of whom were underage.

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“The accused has widely distributed sexually abusive content that he created by luring and threatening many victims,” the Seoul Central District Court was quoted by Yonhap news agency as saying, adding that he had caused “irreparable harm”.

Considering the seriousness of the crimes, the large number of victims and the extent of the damage Cho’s group has inflicted, he would “have to be isolated from society for a long time,” the court added.

The 40-year verdict was short of the lifetime imprisonment sought by prosecutors. Both they and Cho have one week to appeal.

Five people who helped Cho run the criminal ring received jail terms ranging from seven to 15 years.

The case has reignited a national conversation over the seriousness with which digital sex crimes are taken in South Korea.

The illegal sharing of sexual content is a widespread problem in the hyper-connected country, and in the past critics have accused the authorities of being too lenient on such crimes.

Last year the government began running a 24-hour watchdog team to catch illegally shared material.

In one high-profile case, K-pop star Jung Joon-young was convicted of filming and distributing sex videos without the consent of his female partners. He is serving a five-year jail term.

South Korean women have taken to the streets previously over so-called spycams — cameras hidden in public places such as schools and toilets to secretly record women.

Tens of thousands of women demonstrated in Seoul in 2018, demanding stronger government action on the issue.

 

 

AFP

Exhibition Game: S. Korea Court Orders Compensation For Ronaldo’s Absence

 In this file photo taken on September 08, 2020 Portugal’s forward Cristiano Ronaldo reacts after scoring his second goal during the UEFA Nations League football match between Sweden and Portugal on September 8, 2020 in Solna, Sweden. (Photo by Jonathan NACKSTRAND / AFP)

 

A South Korean promoter was ordered to compensate fans on Friday after Juventus superstar Cristiano Ronaldo failed to play an exhibition match as promised.

The five-time Ballon d’Or winner stayed on the bench throughout a 3-3 draw with a K-League all-stars team in July last year, despite the pleas and anger of a sell-out 65,000 crowd at the Seoul World Cup Stadium.

Match promoter The Fasta had run adverts promising the Portuguese striker would play.

The Seoul Central District Court ordered The Fasta to refund half the ticket price and an additional 50,000 won ($45) in compensation to each of 162 plaintiffs who had sued the promoter.

Tickets — priced from 30,000 won to 400,000 won — had sold out in less than three minutes, such was the clamour to see the 35-year-old.

“The defendant has contractual obligations of Ronaldo playing in the game barring any unforeseen circumstances,” the court said, according to South Korea’s Yonhap news agency.

The fans who had come expecting Ronaldo to play suffered “emotional distress”, it added.

No order was made against Ronaldo or Juventus.

The verdict followed a court in a different district ordering The Fasta to compensate two fans who had accused it of false advertising.

Anger over the superstar’s absence spread beyond sports fans to the wider public, prompting the coining of an online phrase “acting like Ronaldo”, referring to someone who doesn’t live up to their promises.

The K-League accused Juventus of “deception” and demanded an apology, while one fan flew to Sweden to confront his hero.

Juventus, who were on a promotional tour, had flown into South Korea on a delayed flight and arrived late at the ground, putting back kick-off by an hour.

AFP

Kim Jong Un Offers Apology Over Killing Of South Korean

This undated picture released from North Korea's official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) on February 29, 2020 shows North Korean leader Kim Jong Un attending a meeting of the Political Bureau of the Central Committee of the Workers' Party of Korea. STR / KCNA VIA KNS / AFP
This undated picture released from North Korea’s official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) on February 29, 2020 shows North Korean leader Kim Jong Un attending a meeting of the Political Bureau of the Central Committee of the Workers’ Party of Korea. STR / KCNA VIA KNS / AFP

 

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un issued a rare apology Friday over what he described as the “unexpected and disgraceful” killing of a South Korean at sea, Seoul’s presidential office said.

Apologies from the North — let alone attributed to Kim personally — are extremely unusual, and the message comes with inter-Korean ties in deep freeze as well as a stand-off in nuclear negotiations between Pyongyang and Washington.

Analysts said the North was looking to placate its neighbour after the shooting — the first time its forces killed a Southern citizen for a decade — provoked outrage in the South.

The fisheries official was shot dead on Tuesday by North Korean soldiers, and Seoul says his body was set on fire while still in the water, apparently as a precaution against coronavirus infection.

Kim was “very sorry” for the “unexpected and disgraceful event” that had “disappointed President Moon and South Koreans”, rather than helping them in the face of the “malicious coronavirus”, said Suh Hoon, the South’s National Security Adviser.

Suh was reading out a letter from the department of the North’s ruling party responsible for relations with the South.

In it, Pyongyang acknowledged firing around 10 shots at the man, who had “illegally entered our waters” and refused to properly identify himself.

Border guards fired at him in accordance with standing instructions, it said.

There was no immediate confirmation of the contents from the North, whose state media did not mention the incident on Friday.

North Korean defector turned Seoul-based researcher Ahn Chan-il said it was “extremely rare for the North’s supreme commander to offer an apology, especially to South Koreans and their President”.

“I think this is the first since the 1976 Korean axe murder incident,” he said, referring to the killing of two US officers in the Demilitarized Zone that divides the peninsula.

Leif-Eric Easley, a professor at Ewha University in Seoul, added: “Kim Jong Un’s supposed apology reduces the risk of escalation between the two Koreas and keeps the Moon government’s hopes for engagement alive.”

It was a “diplomatic move” which “avoids a potential fight in the short-term and preserves the option of reaping longer-term benefits from Seoul”, he said.

– ‘Abominable act’ –

The killing provoked fury in the South, with President Moon Jae-in — a consistent advocate of better relations with Pyongyang — saying it was “shocking” and could not be tolerated for any reason.

In an editorial Friday, the Korea JoongAng Daily said it was “enraged at the North’s abominable act”.

“The act of murdering an unarmed man and burning his body cannot be excused in any way,” it said.

The man — who was wearing a life jacket — disappeared from a patrol vessel near the western border island of Yeonpyeong on Monday, and North Korean forces located him in their waters more than 24 hours later.

South Korean media reports said he was in his forties with two children, but had recently divorced and had financial problems.

Seoul military officials say the man was interrogated while in the water over several hours and expressed a desire to defect, but was killed after an “order from superior authority”.

The North’s letter said his body was no longer visible after the shooting and troops set his flotation device — which was covered in blood — on fire in accordance with national emergency prevention regulations.

North Korea’s crumbling health system would struggle to cope with a major virus outbreak but it has not confirmed a single case of the disease that has swept the world after taking drastic steps to prevent local coronavirus infections.

Pyongyang closed its border with China in January and state media said authorities had raised a state of emergency to the maximum level in July.

Pyongyang put the border city of Kaesong under lockdown in the same month after a defector who had fled South three years ago sneaked back over the heavily fortified border, with he could have carried the disease into the country.

US Forces Korea commander Robert Abrams said earlier this month that North Korean authorities had issued shoot-to-kill orders to prevent the coronavirus entering from China, creating a “buffer zone” at the border.

AFP

Typhoon Hits South Korea After Triggering Landslides In Japan

A general view shows debris washed up at Kagoshima Port in the aftermath of Typhoon Haishen in Kagoshima on September 7, 2020. – Powerful Typhoon Haishen approached South Korea on September 7 after slamming southern Japan with record winds and heavy rains that prompted evacuation warnings for millions.  STR / JIJI PRESS / AFP.

 

A powerful typhoon lashed South Korea on Monday after smashing into southern Japan with record winds and heavy rains that left up to eight people dead or missing.

More than 300,000 households were still without power Monday afternoon after Typhoon Haishen roared past Japan’s southern island of Kyushu, ripping off roofs and dumping half a metre (20 inches) of water in just a day.

Rescue workers were picking through mud and detritus seeking four missing people after a landslide in rural Miyazaki.

Dozens of police officers were on their way to help, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga told reporters in Tokyo.

At least one person had been killed by the typhoon, he said, with the causes of another three deaths during the storm not immediately known.

Haishen, which came on the heels of another powerful typhoon, crashed into Okinawa on Saturday and moved northwards throughout Sunday.

Around 1.8 million people were told to seek shelter for fear that the 200-kilometre-per-hour (135-mile-per-hour) winds would wreak havoc on Japan’s wooden housing stock.

By lunchtime on Monday, the storm had moved over South Korea, forcing the cancellation of hundreds of flights and triggering landslides.

Traffic lights and trees were felled in and around Busan, streets were flooded and power was knocked out for around 20,000 homes across the country.

The typhoon cut electricity to Hyundai Motor’s assembly lines in the city of Ulsan, bringing production to a halt for several hours.

Haishen churned its way up the eastern side of the peninsula into the Sea of Japan, known as the East Sea in Korea, having lost some of its destructive force, but still packing winds of up to 112 kilometres per hour.

The streets of the port city of Sokcho were largely empty, but some residents braved the rain and wind to take photos and marvel at the swell crashing into the harbour wall.

Outside the city, swollen rivers surged through the countryside carrying debris and the occasional fallen tree.

Haishen was forecast to make landfall again in Chongjin, North Hamgyong province in North Korea, at around midnight, according to South Korea’s Meteorological Administration.

Pyongyang’s state media have been on high alert, carrying live broadcasts of the situation, with one showing a reporter driving through a windy, inundated street in Tongchon, Kangwon province.

“Now is the time when we must be on our highest alert,” he said, adding that winds were as powerful as 126 kilometres per hour.

State broadcaster KCTV showed flooded streets and trees shaking from the strong gusts.

North Korea is still reeling from the effects of Typhoon Maysak last week.

Leader Kim Jong Un appeared in state media over the weekend inspecting the damage. He also sacked a top provincial official in South Hamgyong.

He ordered 12,000 ruling party members in Pyongyang to help with recovery efforts, and the official KCNA news agency reported Monday that around 300,000 had responded to his call.

The North’s state media have yet to specify how many people Maysak left missing, injured or dead.

– Hotels full –

In Japan, Typhoon Haishen first made its presence felt on a string of exposed, remote southern islands before sweeping past the Kyushu region.

As it approached Kyushu authorities issued evacuation orders for 1.8 million people, with 5.6 million others told to take precautions.

In some places, residents checked into hotels to shelter from the storm.

Japan converts its municipal buildings and schools into shelters during emergencies, but some people were reluctant to gather in large numbers due to fears over the Covid-19 pandemic.

“I am worried about coronavirus infections. We’re with small children too, so we did not want other people to see us as big trouble,” an elderly man in Shibushi city told broadcaster NHK after checking in at a local hotel with seven relatives.

The storm forced the cancellation of nearly 550 flights and disrupted train services, the network said.

Many factories also suspended operations, including three plants operated by Toyota.

AFP

South Korea Tightens Restrictions In Seoul Area To Tackle COVID-19 Surge

A health official wearing protective gear sprays disinfectant at a market near the Sarang Jeil Church, a new coronavirus infection cluster, in Seoul on August 18, 2020. Jung Yeon-je / AFP.

 

South Korea on Tuesday ordered nightclubs, museums and buffet restaurants closed and banned large gatherings in and around the capital as a burst of new coronavirus cases sparked fears of a major second wave.

The country’s “trace, test and treat” approach to curbing the virus has been held up as a global model, but it is now battling several clusters mostly linked to Protestant churches.

Authorities reported 246 new infections on Tuesday, taking South Korea’s total to 15,761, the fifth consecutive day of triple-digit increases after several weeks with numbers generally in the 30s and 40s.

Prime Minister Chung Sye-kyun said 12 high-risk business categories, including nightclubs, karaoke bars and buffet restaurants will cease operations from Wednesday in Seoul, Incheon and the neighbouring Gyeonggi province.

All public institutions in the areas, such as museums, will also close, he added, while indoor gatherings of more than 50 people, and outdoor ones of more than 100, will also be prohibited.

Between them, the three areas account for half of South Korea’s population.

If the measures fail to contain the virus, it will bring a “great impact on our economy and people’s livelihood”, Chung said.

All church gatherings had already been banned in Seoul and Gyeonggi since Saturday, while sports events went behind closed doors again and residents were urged to avoid unnecessary travel.

The largest current cluster is centred on the Sarang Jeil Church in Seoul, headed by a controversial conservative pastor who has tested positive himself.

A total of 457 cases are linked to that church as of Tuesday, but health authorities said the current situation was a “much bigger crisis” than South Korea’s initial outbreak, when more than 5,000 people connected to a religious sect were infected.

That cluster was centred on the southern city of Daegu, but reports say that Sarang Jeil’s members live all over the country.

This time, “there is a risk of the virus spreading nationwide”, said Kwon Jun-wook, deputy director-general of the Central Disease Control Headquarters.

“If the spread cannot be contained this week, daily life in the entire country may have to stop.”

AFP

Thousands Of South Korea Church Members Quarantined Over COVID-19

A lawyer of the Sarang Jeil Church holds a press conference on its latest COVID-19 cluster infection near the church in Seoul on August 17, 2020. – Thousands of Protestant church members in Seoul have been asked to quarantine, South Korean authorities said on August 17, as the country battles virus clusters linked to religious groups. A total of 315 cases linked to the Sarang Jeil Church had been confirmed so far, officials said, making it one of the biggest clusters so far, and around 3,400 members of the congregation had been asked to quarantine. (Photo by Jung Yeon-je / AFP)

 

Thousands of members of a Protestant church linked to a coronavirus cluster in Seoul have been asked to quarantine, South Korean authorities said Monday, as they accused the group’s firebrand conservative leader — who has reportedly tested positive — of obstruction.

The country’s “trace, test and treat” approach has been held up as a global model in how to curb the virus, but it is now battling several clusters linked to religious groups.

Over the weekend the capital and neighbouring Gyeonggi province — between them home to nearly half the population — banned all religious gatherings and urged residents to avoid unnecessary travel after a burst of new cases sparked fears of a major second wave.

South Korea reported 197 new infections on Monday, taking its total to 15,515, its fourth consecutive day of triple-digit increases after several weeks with numbers generally in the 30s and 40s.

The largest current cluster is centred on the Sarang Jeil Church in Seoul, headed by Jun Kwang-hun, a controversial conservative pastor who is a leading figure in protests against President Moon Jae-in.

A total of 315 cases linked to the church had been confirmed by the end of the weekend, officials said Monday, making it one of the biggest clusters so far, and around 3,400 members of the congregation had been asked to quarantine.

Around one in six of the church members tested so far had been positive, “requiring rapid testing and isolation,” said vice health minister Kim Gang-lip.

But a list of members provided by the church was “inaccurate”, he said, making the testing and isolation procedure “very difficult”.

The situation amounted to an “early stage of a large-scale outbreak”, said Jung Eun-kyeong, director of the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“If the outbreak is not controlled right now, the number of confirmed cases will increase exponentially, leading to collapse of the medical system and enormous economic damage,” she said.

– Turbulent priest –

Sarang Jeil’s leader Jun was among the speakers who addressed thousands of right-wing protestors who rallied against Moon’s centre-left government in the heart of Seoul at the weekend, despite the outbreak and calls to avoid large gatherings.

A lawyer of the Sarang Jeil Church holds a press conference on its latest COVID-19 cluster infection near the church in Seoul on August 17, 2020. – Thousands of Protestant church members in Seoul have been asked to quarantine, South Korean authorities said on August 17, as the country battles virus clusters linked to religious groups. A total of 315 cases linked to the Sarang Jeil Church had been confirmed so far, officials said, making it one of the biggest clusters so far, and around 3,400 members of the congregation had been asked to quarantine. (Photo by Jung Yeon-je / AFP)

 

Jun tested positive for the virus, Yonhap News Agency reported on Monday.

The health and welfare ministry and the Seoul city authorities have filed two separate police complaints against Jun, accusing him of deliberately hindering efforts to contain the epidemic.

He previously defied a Seoul rally ban to hold an anti-government protest in February, at a time the government was urging everyone to stay at home because of the virus, and was later detained on allegations of separately violating election laws.

The initial coronavirus outbreak in the South was centred on the Shincheonji Church of Jesus, which is often condemned as a cult and was also accused of obstructing investigators.

A lawyer for Sarang Jeil said the church had given authorities details of members going back 15 years, so many former congregants would have been included.

“This nationwide fear is a gimmick to arrest Rev. Jun Kwang-hun,” Kang Yeon-jae told reporters at the church.

The leader of Shincheonji — to which more than 5,000 cases were linked — Lee Man-hee was arrested earlier this month for allegedly giving inaccurate records of church gatherings and false lists of its members to health authorities.

AFP