North Korea said Monday it conducted drills simulating a tactical nuclear counterattack against its enemies over the weekend, as the United States and South Korea are staging their joint annual military exercise.The North's leader Kim Jong-un "guided" the exercises of its military units operating tactical nuclear weapons Saturday and Sunday, including a ballistic missile launch drill, according to the official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA).Kim called for fully establishing the country's readiness posture for nuclear attacks against its enemies, as the US and the South have been "frantically" carrying out a "rehearsal of invasion" of the North, involving American military assets."We cannot deter the war only with the fact that we are a nuclear state. Only when we complete the country's readiness posture for nuclear attacks that can be operated swiftly and accurately at any time, we can fulfill the important, strategic mission of deterring war," Kim was quoted as saying by the KCNA.The North said it conducted a drill to review the reliability of its tactical nuclear force Saturday. On Sunday morning, the country held a ballistic missile launch drill simulating the country carrying out a tactical nuclear attack in a bid to check the operational reliability of its nuclear explosion control devices and detonators, according to the KCNA. It said the missile, fired from Cholsan County, North Pyongan Province, precisely "exploded in the air" at a height of 800 meters above the East Sea, after flying 800 kilometres, Yonhap News Agency reported.South Korea's military said Sunday it detected the firing of a short-range ballistic missile from the Tongchang-ri area in the North's western part toward the East Sea.The Freedom Shield military exercise of the allies are under way in and around the peninsula, aimed at bolstering their defense posture against the North's evolving nuclear and missile threats.
A civilian helicopter crashed in the small eastern town of Yeongwol in South Korea on Wednesday, leaving both passengers on board dead.Local fire authorities and police said the aircraft carrying two passengers crashed into the town located 138 kilometres east of Seoul, South Korea's News Agency (Yonhap) reported.The two victims, a 65-year-old pilot and a 51-year-old freight company official, were pronounced dead at a nearby hospital.Police suspect the aircraft which was transporting electric wires for the construction of a transmission tower, may have come into contact with a transmission line, causing the accident.
Nuclear-armed North Korea test-fired two strategic cruise missiles from a submarine on Sunday, state news agency KCNA said on Monday, just as US-South Korea military drills were due to begin."Strategic" is typically used to describe weapons that have a nuclear capability.KCNA said the launch confirmed the reliability of the system and tested the underwater offensive operations of the submarine units that form part of North Korea's nuclear deterrent.South Korea's Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) said the military was on high alert and the country's intelligence agency was working with its US counterpart to analyse the specifics of the launch.On Monday, South Korean and American troops were scheduled to begin 11 days of joint drills, dubbed "Freedom Shield 23," which will be held on a scale not seen since 2017.The drills will strengthen the allies' combined defensive posture, the two militaries have said, and will feature field exercises including amphibious landings.North Korea has long bristled over drills it regards as a rehearsal for invasion. It has conducted a record number of missile tests and drills in the past year in what it says is an effort to boost its nuclear deterrent and make more weapons fully operational."It's very regretful that North Korea is using our regular, defensive drills as a pretext for provocation," said Koo Byoung-sam, spokesperson for South Korea's unification ministry handling relations with the North. "I hope North Korea realises that there is nothing they can earn from escalating tensions on the Korean peninsula."The submarine launches aimed to show North Korea's determination to control a situation in which, KCNA said, "the US imperialists and the south Korean puppet forces are getting evermore undisguised in their anti-DPRK military manoeuvres."DPRK stands for North Korea, officially the Democratic People's Republic of Korea.KCNA said the strategic cruise missiles were fired from the "8.24 Yongung" submarine in the water off the east coast of Korea in the early hours of Sunday.The missiles travelled some 1,500 kilometres before hitting a target in the sea, the KCNA report said.A JCS spokesperson said not everything North Korea claimed was accurate, but he did not give further details.It is unclear whether North Korea has fully developed the miniaturised nuclear warheads needed to fit on such missiles. Analysts say that perfecting smaller warheads would most likely be a key goal if the North resumes nuclear testing.Leif-Eric Easley, a professor at Ewha University in Seoul, said that North Korean cruise missiles launched from a submarine represent a threat the United States, and its allies must take seriously, but that Pyongyang could be exaggerating its capabilities."The Kim regime wants to show it can match or surpass military capabilities on display during US-South Korea defence exercises. Yet the reality is North Korean soldiers are poorly fed and are being ordered to help farmers address the country’s food shortage," Easley said.Japan's Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno said there was no information that the missile flew toward Japan's waters or caused any damage."If North Korea's announcement that the missile had a range of more than 1,500 kilometres was true, it would pose threats to the region's peace and stability - we are concerned," Matsuno said.He said US military deterrence in Asia-Pacific is "essential" in the region, adding the North "may step onto further provocative acts such as a nuclear test."North Korea has a large submarine fleet but the 8.24 Yongung (August 24th Hero) is its only known experimental ballistic missile submarine. Analysts say it plays a critical role in the development of missiles, submarine technology and operational procedures, as well as hands-on training of new submariners.North Korea has said it is building an operational ballistic missile submarine.While overseeing a short-range ballistic missile (SRBM) launching exercise on Thursday, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un ordered the military to intensify drills to deter and respond to a "real war" if necessary.On Sunday state media reported that Kim led a ruling party meeting to discuss and decide on "important, practical measures" to boost the country's war deterrence in the midst of stepped-up actions by the United States and South Korea. The report did not provide specifics on the measures.
A firefighter died while trying to put out the main wildfire at Mount Jiri National Park in southern South Korea, 21 hours after it started, having burned more than 900,000 hectares of woodland.A firefighter was killed in responding to the blaze that began in the mountainous town of Hadong, 286 kilometres south of Seoul, according to the Korea Forest Service (KFS). It had spread to nearby areas before the main fire was put out around noon Sunday.Some 75 residents were forced to evacuate their homes, but no other casualties were reported, the KFS said.The fire scorched an estimated 910,000 hectares of woodland, it added.The authorities are working to put out the remaining fires and plan to launch a probe into what caused them, according to the agency.
North Korea has decided to take "important, practical" measures for the "offensive use" of war deterrents, state media said Sunday, with the United States and South Korea set to launch their joint military exercise this week.The decision was made at an enlarged meeting of the Central Military Commission of the ruling Workers' Party of Korea (WPK), presided over by leader Kim Jong-un, according to the official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA).Washington and Seoul are scheduled to kick off the Freedom Shield (FS) exercise Monday for an 11-day run, along with a large-scale field maneuver, called the Warrior Shield."The meeting discussed and adopted the important practical steps for making more effective, powerful and offensive use of the war deterrent of the country in coping with the present situation in which the war provocations of the US and South Korea are reaching the red-line," the KCNA said in an English-language dispatch, cited by Yonhap news agency. It did not specify what the practical measures would be.The North is widely expected to conduct weapons tests timed with the allies' combined military exercises, which Pyongyang has long denounced as a rehearsal for an invasion.Kim inspected a "fire assault drill," simulating its attack on the enemy's airfield, last week in a bid to check the "actual war" readiness posture of its military.His younger sister Kim Yo-jong earlier warned her country is ready to take "overwhelming" actions against military activities by the US and the South.
South Korean firefighting teams managed Thursday morning to control a forest fire in the southeastern town of Hapcheon.The Korea Forest Service said in a statement that the fire started on a hill in the Hapcheon, about 355 kilometres southeast of Seoul on Wednesday and quickly spread due to strong winds.The main body of the fire was contained at around 10 am Thursday, after damaging 163 hectares of forest area, equivalent to the size of 228 football fields.No casualties or property damage have been reported. A total of 214 people from six villages were evacuated Wednesday and returned home Thursday morning.Over the course of two days, a total of 2,970 personnel and 152 pieces of equipment, including firetrucks, were deployed to extinguish the wildfire.Officials said 10 helicopters and 830 personnel will remain on standby.The authorities plan to investigate the exact cause of the fire as soon as all remaining flames are extinguished.
The UN called for practical steps to reduce tensions on the Korean peninsula, saying that the situation on the Korean Peninsula continues to head in the wrong direction due to "the negative action-reaction cycle."The Assistant Secretary-General for the Middle East, Asia, and Pacific Khaled Khiari said in a speech to the UN Security Council that "the DPRK needs to take immediate steps to resume dialogue leading to sustainable peace and the complete and verifiable denuclearisation of the Korean Peninsula; this should include the DPRK refraining from carrying out further launches using ballistic missile technology or nuclear tests."Khiari affirmed the need to avoid an unintended escalation indicating that "Communication channels must be enhanced, particularly military to military. Avoiding confrontational rhetoric will help to lower political tensions and create space to explore diplomatic avenues.""Diplomacy not isolation - is the only way forward." he added.In this context, the UN official welcomed the Council's commitment to a peaceful, comprehensive, diplomatic and peaceful solution."We welcome the Security Council's commitment to a peaceful, comprehensive, diplomatic, and political solution to the situation on the Korean Peninsula, as well as the importance the Council has placed on working to reduce tensions," Khiari said.On Monday, the South Korean announced that North Korea fired two short-range ballistic missiles toward the East Sea, one day after South Korea and the US staged joint air drills, involving B-1B bombers, in response to the North's long-range missile launch.The launch is the third of its kind this year and came two days after Pyongyang launched its Hwasong-15 intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) and short-range ballistic missile on Jan 1.
South Korea said Monday it has decided to impose additional independent sanctions on North Korea in response to its latest long-range ballistic missile launch and the firing of two short-range ballistic missiles.The government is imposing the sanctions on four individuals and five institutions involved in the secretive regime's nuclear and missile development programs or helping Pyongyang evade sanctions, the South Korean foreign ministry said in a statement carried by (Yonhap) news agency.Those blacklisted include Ri Song-un, former economic and commercial counselor at the North Korean Embassy in Mongolia. Ri is known to have negotiated trade deals involving weapons and luxury goods, the ministry said.Among the organisations facing Seoul's measure are Songwon Shipping & Management, and Korea Daizin Trading Corp.
North Korea fired two short-range ballistic missiles toward the East Sea, after re-deploying a nuclear-powered US aircraft carrier off the coast of South Korea.This comes one day after South Korea and the United States staged joint air drills, involving B-1B bombers, in response to the North's long-range missile launch.The Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) said it detected the launch from the Sukchon area in South Pyongyang Province between 6:01 am and 6:23 am (local time), and that the missiles flew some 390 kms and 340 km, respectively, Yonhap News Agency reported.Hours after the launch, the North's official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) reported that the artillery unit of the Korean People's Army fired two shots from the 600-mm multiple rocket launcher during firing drills, and that they flew 395 km and 337 km, respectively.Leader Kim Jong Un's sister, Kim Yo Jong, issued yet another warning and bristled at the United States for trying to turn the UN Security Council into what she called a "tool for its heinous hostile policy" toward Pyongyang."I warn that we will watch every movement of the enemy and take corresponding and very powerful and overwhelming counteraction against its every move hostile to us," she said in a statement.On Sunday, the allies carried out the air drills, involving the US bombers and South Korean F-35A stealth jets, as the North launched what it claimed to be a Hwasong-15 intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) the previous day.
North Korea fires first missile since Jan. 1Pyongyang had warned of 'strong' response over drillsJapan and South Korea condemn launchNorth Korea launched a long-range ballistic missile into the sea off Japan's west coast on Saturday after warning of a strong response to upcoming military drills by South Korea and the United States.Japanese authorities said the missile plunged into waters inside Japan's exclusive economic zone more than an hour after it was launched, suggesting the weapon was one of Pyongyang's largest missiles.Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kisihda said the missile appeared to have been ICBM-class, referring to an intercontinental ballistic missile. He told a briefing Japan strongly condemned the launch, calling it a threat to the international community.Defence Minister Yasukazu Hamada said the missile appeared to have a range of more than 14,000 km - sufficient to reach the US mainland.Tokyo said there were no immediate reports of damage to ships or aircraft.In South Korea, which denounced the launch as a "clear breach of UN Security Council resolutions", the joint chiefs of staff said the missile had flown about 900 km before splashing into the sea.North Korea's first missile firing since Jan. 1 came after Pyongyang threatened on Friday an "unprecedentedly persistent, strong" response as South Korea and the United States gear up for annual military exercises as part of efforts to fend off the North's growing nuclear and missile threats.Following Saturday's launch, South Korea's National Security Council convened a meeting and agreed to increase cooperation on security with Washington and Japan.The White House strongly condemned the launch and said it would take all necessary measures to protect the US homeland and regional allies.The launch "needlessly raises tensions and risks destabilizing the security situation in the region," Adrienne Watson, spokesperson for the White House National Security Council, said in a statement.The US Indo-Pacific Command said the launch did not pose an immediate threat to the US or its allies.Nuclear-armed North Korea fired an unprecedented number of missiles last year, including ICBMs that are capable of striking anywhere in the United States, while resuming preparations for its first nuclear test since 2017.Saturday's missile was launched from the Sunan area near Pyongyang, South Korea's military said. Sunan is the site of the Pyongyang International Airport, where North Korea has conducted most of its recent ICBM tests.North Korea's ballistic missile and nuclear weapons programmes are banned under UN Security Council resolutions, but Pyongyang says its weapons development is necessary to counter "hostile policies" by Washington and its allies.Allied nuclear drills, called the Deterrence Strategy Committee Tabletop Exercise, are scheduled for Wednesday at the Pentagon and will involve senior defence policymakers from both sides, Seoul's Defence Ministry said.The two countries are also planning a range of expanded field exercises, including live fire drills, in the coming weeks and months.Some 28,500 US troops are stationed in South Korea as a legacy of the 1950-1953 Korean War, which ended in an armistice rather than a full peace treaty, leaving the parties technically at war.Pyongyang may have created a military unit tasked with operating new ICBMs, in line with its recent restructuring of the military, state media video footage from a Feb. 9 parade suggested.That parade displayed more ICBMs than ever before, including a possible new solid-fuel weapon, which could help the North deploy its missiles faster in the event of a war."North Korean missile firings are often tests of technologies under development, and it will be notable if Pyongyang claims progress with a long-range solid-fuel missile," said Leif-Eric Easley, a professor of international studies at Ewha University in Seoul.
Nine fishermen went missing, while three others have been rescued, as their fishing boat capsized in the waters off the southwestern coast of South Korea.Local authorities said that three crew members were rescued by a nearby boat, while nine people were still missing, as they may be trapped inside the overturned boat. The local authorities also indicated that search operations are still underway by the rescue teams of the South Korean Coast Guard, Yonhap news agency reported.Authorities indicated that the 24-ton vessel had overturned in waters 16.6 kilometres west of the island of Daebichi. The uninhabited island lies some 20 km from the southwestern county of Sinan.It is not the first time that South Korea witnessed a boat sinking this year. On January 25, a cargo ship sank off Jeju Island in southern South Korea.
A Hong Kong-registered cargo ship carrying 22 crew members sank off South Korea's southern island of Jeju on Wednesday.Five of the crew were rescued, while a search is under way for the others, the Coast Guard in South Korea said.Fourteen Chinese and eight Myanmarese crew members were aboard the Jin Tian, a 6,551-ton, wood-carrying ship, when it sent out a distress signal in waters 148.2 kilometers southeast of the city of Seogwipo on Jeju Island, the Coast Guard said in a statement reported by Yonhap News Agency.The ship was completely submerged when Coast Guard personnel arrived at the scene.Five of the crew members were rescued by other ships that were sailing by, officials said, adding the Coast Guard is conducting a joint search and rescue operation with their Japanese counterparts for the 17 others.The Coast Guard said the ship appears to have gone down when it sent the distress signal via the emergency position indicating radio beacon (EPIRB), an emergency locator system.
South Korea will drop rules that require people to wear masks in most indoor spaces, authorities said Friday, ending one of the country's last major pandemic restrictions as Covid-19 cases dwindle.From January 30, it will no longer be mandatory to wear facemasks in most indoor spaces, except on public transport and in medical facilities.The mask mandate has been in place since October 2020, and is one of South Korea's last remaining pandemic-era restrictions, with other rules from business curfews to social distancing long dropped.The country still makes it mandatory for those who get officially diagnosed with Covid to isolate themselves for seven days."The adjustments on the mandatory indoor mask mandate will be implemented from Monday, January 30th, after the Lunar New Year holiday," said Jee Young-mee, the head of the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency.Prime Minister Han Duck-soo said the plan was to change the indoor mask mandate from "required to recommended," he told a government Covid response meeting.He said the decision had been made in view of the country's solid medical response capabilities, the decreased number of critical cases and deaths from the coronavirus, and a downward trend in new infections."External risk factors were also judged to be sufficiently manageable," he said, in an apparent reference to Seoul's response to the recent surge in cases in China.Seoul earlier this month implemented a host of new rules for visitors from China, including visa restrictions and testing requirements.China last week suspended issuing short-term visas to South Koreans, in apparent retaliation for restrictions imposed on Chinese travellers over outbreak concerns.Almost 30 million South Koreans have been infected with Covid, and more than 33,000 have died, according to official data.The country was hit by one of the worst early outbreaks of the disease outside China, where the coronavirus was first detected.Its early response to the pandemic -- which involved mass testing and aggressive contact tracing while never imposing a compulsory lockdown -- was praised as a model for containing the pandemic at the time.
South Korean police on Friday blamed negligence and planning failures for last year's Halloween crowd crush in Seoul that killed more than 150 people.Scores of young costumed partygoers, mostly women in their 20s, died in the disaster on October 29 in the capital's popular Itaewon nightlife area.A special team that spent months combing through evidence and interviewing officials, said at the end of its probe that there had been massive planning and response failures -- but stopped short of blaming any top government or national policy agency officials."Organisations that are legally obligated to prevent and respond to disasters -- police, district offices and Seoul Metro -- did not establish safety measures in advance or came up with poor plans," Sohn Jae-han, the team's head, told reporters."Appropriate measures were not taken even after receiving rescue requests" on the day of the disaster, he said.Poor cooperation between agencies and delays in communications and relief efforts contributed to a higher death toll, he added.Six people have been arrested due to the probe -- including Lee Im-jae, the former head of the Yongsan Police Station, which oversees Itaewon, and Park Hee-young, the head of the Yongsan district office.Both Lee and Park are being held in detention on charges of professional negligence resulting in death.In December, a teenager who had survived the crush was found dead in an apparent suicide, with officials ruling he should be considered a victim of the disaster, and raising the death toll to 159.- No top government officials liable –But the team did not blame any officials from the Seoul city government, the interior ministry, or the national policy agency, Sohn said, as it was "difficult to conclude that there was a concrete violation of duty".Interior Minister Lee Sang-min has faced mounting pressure to step down over the tragedy.Shortly after the crush, he was widely criticised for claiming that having more fire department and police personnel in Itaewon would not have prevented the disaster.He has since repeatedly apologised -- including in person last week to the families of the victims -- but has not offered to resign.South Korea's rapid transformation from a war-torn, impoverished backwater to Asia's fourth-largest economy and a global cultural powerhouse is a source of its national pride.But a series of preventable disasters -- such as the Halloween crush and the 2014 Sewol ferry sinking that killed 304 people -- has shaken public confidence in the authorities.
South Korea's unmanned space vehicle Danuri has successfully entered the orbit of the moon earlier than planned, the South Korean science ministry said Wednesday.Danuri, also known as the Korea Pathfinder Lunar Orbiter, was captured by the moon's gravity on Tuesday and began rotation, according to the Ministry of Science and ICT.It was achieved after three rounds of lunar orbit insertion (LOI) maneuvers since the first one held on Dec. 17.Danuri was scheduled to achieve the lunar orbit on Thursday after performing a total of five rounds of LOI maneuvers, the adjustment process for a space vehicle to lower its speed and commit itself to the gravity of the moon.The space vehicle will measure terrain, magnetic strengths, gamma rays and other traits of the lunar surface using six onboard instruments during its yearlong mission starting in January. The orbiter will also identify potential landing sites for future lunar missions.Danuri, South Korea's first space mission beyond Earth's orbit, was launched in August aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in the U.S. state of Florida for South Korea's first lunar mission. It has traveled a cumulative 5.94 million kilometres so far.
North Korea fired two short-range ballistic missiles Friday, Seoul's military said, the latest in a recent flurry of sanctions-busting weapons tests.It has been a year of unprecedented tests by the North, including the launch of its most advanced intercontinental ballistic missile last month, the test of what Pyongyang says was a new rocket engine last week, and claims this week it has developed new capabilities to take images from space."Our military spotted two short-range ballistic missiles launched by North Korea into the East Sea from the Sunan area of Pyongyang at around 16:32 (0732 GMT) today," South Korea's Joint Chiefs of Staff said, referring to the body of water also known as the Sea of Japan."Our military maintains a full readiness posture while closely cooperating with the US while strengthening surveillance and vigilance."The United States and South Korea have warned for months that Pyongyang is preparing to conduct its seventh nuclear test.The two countries held a joint air drill on Tuesday, and deployed a US B-52H strategic bomber to the Korean peninsula, according to the South Korean Joint Chiefs of Staff.The long-range heavy bomber was part of an exercise that included the US and South Korea's most advanced jets -- including the F-22 and the F-35 stealth fighters.Friday's launch came hours after the White House said Pyongyang had delivered arms to the Russian private military group Wagner.Disclosing the delivery on Thursday US time, the White House called Wagner a "rival" for power to the defence and other ministries in the Kremlin.- 'Putin's chef' - The Wagner group is controlled by Yevgeny Prigozhin, a businessman once called "Putin's chef" for his work catering dinners for the powerful leader before and after he became the Russian president.In a statement carried by the Korean Central News Agency, the North Korean foreign ministry denied conducting any arms transaction with Russia, saying the story was "cooked up by some dishonest forces for different purposes".Despite heavy international sanctions over its weapons programmes, Pyongyang has built up an arsenal of intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs).Last week, North Korea tested a "high-thrust solid-fuel motor", with state media describing it as an important test "for the development of another new-type strategic weapon system".All its known ICBMs are liquid-fuelled, and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has placed strategic priority on developing solid-fuel engines for more advanced missiles.His powerful sister also insisted earlier this week that the North had developed advanced technologies to take images from space using a spy satellite.Kim said this year that he wants North Korea to have the world's most powerful nuclear force, and declared his country an "irreversible" nuclear state.The wishlist he revealed last year included solid-fuel ICBMs that could be launched from land or submarines.The latest motor test was a step towards that goal, but it is not clear how far North Korea has come in the development of such a missile, analysts said.
Foreign leaders expressed condolences over the deadly crowd surge in Seoul’s Itaewon district, with more than 20 foreign nationals from 15 countries among those killed in the crush in a popular nightspot. South Korea’s President Yoon Suk-yeol declared a period of national mourning yesterday after the Halloween crush on Saturday night killed some 153 people. South Korea’s foreign ministry put the total at 26 foreign nationals killed from 15 countries. A ministry official said the dead included people from China, Iran and Russia. Two Japanese nationals, a woman in her twenties and another woman between the age of 10 and 19, were also confirmed to have died in the crush, an official at Japan’s foreign ministry said. “I am greatly shocked and deeply saddened by the loss of many precious lives, including young people with a bright future, as a result of the very tragic accident,” Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said in a statement. At least four Chinese nationals were among those killed, Xinhua news agency reported, citing the Chinese embassy in Seoul. “On behalf of the Chinese government and people, I would like to express deep condolences to the victims and extend sincere condolences to their families and the injured,” President Xi Jinping said in a letter, according to Xinhua. Xi said some Chinese citizens were also injured, and hoped South Korea “will make every effort to cure and deal with the aftermath.” Four Russian citizens died, the RIA news agency reported, citing the Russian embassy in South Korea. “Please convey words of sincere sympathy and support to the families and friends of the victims, and also wishes for the swift recovery of all the injured,” President Vladimir Putin said in a Telegram to Yoon. US President Joe Biden and first lady Jill Biden sent their condolences, writing: “We grieve with the people of South Korea and send our best wishes for a quick recovery to all those who were injured.” British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak tweeted: “All our thoughts are with those currently responding and all South Koreans at this very distressing time.” One Norwegian citizen was confirmed to have died in the crush, a spokesperson for Norway’s foreign ministry said, declining to provide any details. “I am devastated by news of the terrible incident in connection with Halloween celebrations in Seoul,” Norwegian Foreign Minister Anniken Huitfeldt said in a statement.”My deepest condolences to families and friends who lost their loved ones. My thoughts are with those affected by this tragedy.”
More than 150 people were killed in a stampede at a Halloween event in central Seoul, officials said Sunday, with South Korea's president vowing a full investigation into one of the country's worst disasters. The crowd surge and crush hit in the capital's popular Itaewon district, where police estimate as many as 100,000 people -- mostly in their teens and 20s -- went to celebrate Halloween Saturday night, clogging the area's narrow alleyways and winding streets. He said the government "will thoroughly investigate the cause of the incident and make fundamental improvements to ensure the same accident does not occur again in the future". "My heart is heavy and it is difficult to contain my sorrow," he added, before he visited the scene of the disaster and spoke to emergency workers. Eyewitnesses described being trapped in a narrow, sloping alleyway, and scrambling to get out of the suffocating crowd as people piled on top of one another. The fire department said at least 151 people, including 19 foreigners, were killed in the stampede, which occurred around 10:00 pm (1300 GMT). Most of the victims were young women in their 20s, it said, adding that 89 people were injured. The Interior Ministry said most victims had now been identified. "The high number of casualties was the result of many being trampled during the Halloween event," fire official Choi Seong-beom told reporters at the scene, adding that the death toll could climb. Seoul authorities said they had also received 355 reports of missing people by early Sunday. - 'Unprecedentedly large' - Officials said Sunday they had no clear idea of what caused the crush, while eyewitnesses described scenes of chaos as a vast crowd panicked in a narrow alleyway. Local shopkeepers told AFP that the number of people at the annual celebration was "unprecedentedly large" this year -- the first event to be held without Covid-19 restrictions since the pandemic began. "There were so many people just being pushed around and I got caught in the crowd and I couldn't get out at first too," 30-year-old Jeon Ga-eul told AFP. As questions began to emerge over the lack of security at the event, Interior Minister Lee Sang-min told a briefing that the police force had been occupied on the other side of town. "I am not certain about the exact number of police personnel deployed (to Itaewon) but a considerable number had been deployed at Gwanghwamun where a large crowd was expected for a protest," he said. Police had also not expected such a large crowd at the Halloween event, he said. "The expected size of the crowd in Itaewon did not deviate much from the previous years, so I understand that the personnel were deployed at a similar scale as before." Paramedics at the scene, quickly overwhelmed by the number of victims, were asking passers-by to administer first aid. In an interview with local broadcaster YTN, Lee Beom-suk, a doctor who administered first aid to the victims described scenes of tragedy and chaos. "So many victims' faces were pale. I could not catch their pulse or breath and many of them had a bloody nose. When I tried CPR, I also pumped blood out of their mouths." AFP photos showed scores of bodies on the pavement covered by bed sheets, and emergency workers dressed in orange vests loading even more bodies on stretchers into ambulances. - 'Oh my god' - Twitter user @janelles_story shared a video that she said showed Itaewon shortly before the stampede, in which hundreds of young people, many in elaborate Halloween costumes, are seen in a narrow street lined with bars and cafes. The crowd appears in good spirits at first, but then a commotion begins and people start being pushed into one another. Screams and gasps are heard and a female voice cries out in English "Shit, shit!" followed by "Oh my god, oh my god!" The 19 foreigners killed included victims from Iran, Uzbekistan, China and Norway, Yonhap reported. Russia's Tass news agency said two of the victims were Russian. The Chinese Embassy in Seoul confirmed on its official WeChat account that three Chinese citizens had died in the stampede. Seoul's staunch ally, US President Joe Biden, said America "stands with" South Korea after the tragedy, while Japan's Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said he was "hugely shocked and deeply saddened" by the disaster.
At least 146 people were killed in a crush when a huge crowd celebrating Halloween surged into an alley in a night life area of the South Korean capital Seoul on Saturday night, emergency officials said. A further 150 people were injured in the melee in Seoul's Itaewon district, Choi Sung-beom, head of the Yongsan Fire Station, said in a briefing at the scene. Many of the injured were in serious condition and receiving emergency treatment, the officials said. It was the first Halloween event in Seoul in three years after the country lifted COVID restrictions and social distancing. Many of the party-goers were wearing masks and Halloween costumes. Some witnesses described the crowd becoming increasingly unruly and agitated as the evening deepened. The incident took place at about 10:20 p.m. (1320 GMT). "A number of people fell during a Halloween festival, and we have a large number of casualties," Choi said. Many of those killed were near a nightclub. Many of the victims were women in their twenties, Choi said. Witnesses described chaotic scenes moments before the stampede, with the police on hand in anticipation of the Halloween event at times having trouble maintaining control of the crowds. Moon Ju-young, 21, said there were clear signs of trouble in the alleys before the incident. "It was at least more than 10 times crowded than usual," he told Reuters. Social media footage showed hundreds of people packed in the narrow, sloped alley crushed and immobile as emergency officials and police tried to pull them to free. One woman heard on a social media post cries out in English: "Oh my God, oh my God, Jesus fucking Christ." Choi, the Yongsan district fire chief, said all the deaths were likely from the crush in the single narrow alley. Other footage showed chaotic scenes of fire officials and citizens treating dozens of people who appeared to be unconscious. An unnamed woman who said she was the mother of a survivor said her daughter and others were trapped for more than an hour before being pulled from the crush of people in the alley. A Reuters witness said a make-shift morgue was set up in a building adjacent to the scene. About four dozen bodies were carried out later on wheeled stretchers and moved to a government facility to identify the victims, according to the witness. The Itaewon district is popular with young South Koreans and expatriates alike, its dozens of bars and restaurants packed on Saturday for Halloween after businesses had suffered a sharp decline over three years of the pandemic. "You would see big crowds at Christmas and fireworks...but this was several ten-folds bigger than any of that," Park Jung-hoon, 21, told Reuters from the scene. Foreigners were among those transferred to nearby hospitals. "The area is still chaotic so we are still trying to figure out the exact number of people injured," said Moon Hyun-joo, an official at the National Fire Agency. With the easing of the COVID pandemic, curfews on bars and restaurants and a limit of 10 people for private gatherings were lifted in April. An outdoor mask mandate was dropped in May. Authorities said they were investigating the exact cause of the incident. President Yoon Suk-yeol presided over an emergency meeting with senior aides. (Reporting by Soo-hyang Choi, Choonsik Yoo Daewoung Kim, Hong-ji Kim, Writing by Jack Kim, Editing by Angus MacSwan)
North Korea yesterday fired two short-range ballistic missiles, the South’s military said, the latest in a blitz of launches that Washington and Seoul have warned could culminate in another nuclear test. The launch comes as the South wraps up 12 days of amphibious naval military exercises, involving key security ally America, and ahead of the Monday start of major combined air drills that will involve more than 200 US and South Korean fighter jets. Such exercises infuriate Pyongyang, which sees them as rehearsals for invasion and has repeatedly justified its blitz of missile launches as necessary “countermeasures” to what it deems US aggression. South Korea’s military said it had “detected two ballistic missiles fired from the Tongchon area in Kangwon between 1159 (0259GMT) and 1218,” it said, referring to a province on North Korea’s east coast. “Our military has increased monitoring and surveillance and is maintaining a full readiness posture in close co-ordination with the US,” Seoul’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said in a statement. The missiles flew approximately 230km at an altitude of 24km and speeds of Mach 5, the statement said, calling the launch “a serious provocation” that violated UN sanctions. The US military’s Indo-Pacific Command also condemned the launch, saying it highlighted “the destabilising impact” of North Korea’s banned weapons programmes. With talks long-stalled, tensions on the peninsula are at their highest point in years, with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un last month declaring his country an “irreversible” nuclear power, effectively ending negotiations over his banned weapons programmes. Officials in Washington and Seoul have been warning for months that Kim is ready to conduct another nuclear test, which would be the country’s seventh - and the first since 2017. On Tuesday, South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol said it appeared Pyongyang had “already completed preparations for a seventh nuclear test”, he told parliament. On Wednesday, the US, Japan and South Korea vowed such a test would warrant an “unprecedentedly strong response”. North Korea has this month fired multiple artillery barrages into a maritime “buffer zone” that was set up in 2018 as a way of reducing tensions with the South during a period of ill-fated diplomacy. It also announced it had staged what it called “tactical nuclear drills” that simulated showering the South with nuke-capable missiles. And on Monday, a North Korean ship reportedly crossed the two countries’ flashpoint maritime border, prompting an exchange of warning shots. North Korean state media has also recently carried a rare series of statements from the country’s military condemning the “enemy’s war drills” and calling for them to stop. Yesterday’s launch is Pyongyang’s effort to push back against both the “Hoguk” amphibious drills and “Vigilant Storm” air drills, said Hong Min of the Korea Institute for National Unification. “The North knows it cannot compete with the combined US-South Korea air capabilities so instead it intends to show it has the capacity to strike their air command centre with their missiles,” he said. “The North has always dreaded and been sensitive to the Vigilant Storm exercise involving a large joint fleet of fighter jets, and views it as a very aggressive posture,” he added. North Korea’s latest launch is part of a dramatic increase this year in what Seoul calls “provocations”, including Pyongyang conducting its longest-ever missile launch by distance, which overflew Japan and prompted rare evacuation warnings.