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.
Nuclear-armed North Korea yesterday test-fired a ballistic missile farther than ever before, sending it soaring over Japan for the first time in five years and prompting a warning for residents there to take cover. It was the first North Korean missile to follow such a trajectory since 2017, and its estimated 4,600km range was the longest travelled by a North Korean test missile, which are usually “lofted” high into space to avoid flying over neighbouring countries. In response to the test, US and South Korean warplanes practised bombing a target in the Yellow Sea and fighter jets from the US and Japan also carried out joint drills over the Sea of Japan, the US military said. Japan warned its citizens to take cover and suspended some train services when the missile passed over its north before falling into the Pacific Ocean. It was the latest in an escalating cycle of muscle flexing in the region. A US aircraft carrier made a port call in South Korea for the first time since 2018 on September 23, and North Korea has conducted five launches in the last 10 days. The period has also seen joint drills by the US, South Korea and Japan, and a visit to the region by US Vice President Kamala Harris, who stood at the fortified border between the Koreas and accused the North of undermining security. North Korea accuses the US and its allies of threatening it with exercises and defence build-ups. Recent tests have drawn relatively muted responses from Washington, which is focused on the war in Ukraine as well as other domestic and foreign crises. But the US military has stepped up displays of force in the region and the White House National Security Council called the latest test “dangerous and reckless.” In the US and South Korean response to the North’s test yesterday, a South Korean air force F-15K jet dropped a pair of guided bombs on a target off its west coast, in what South Korea’s military called a demonstration of precision strike capability against the source of North Korean provocations. Japan said it took no steps to shoot the missile down but Defence Minister Yasukazu Hamada said it would not rule out any options, including counterattack capabilities, as it looks to strengthen its defences in the face of repeated missile launches from North Korea. South Korea also said it would boost its military and increase allied co-operation. US National Security Council spokesperson Adrienne Watson called the North Korean test “destabilising” and said it showed North Korea’s “blatant disregard for United Nations Security Council resolutions and international safety norms.”
Thousands of Koreans were evacuated as Typhoon Hinnamur made landfall in the south of the country, expecting heavy rain and strong winds to continue throughout the day, the authorities in South Korea announced on Tuesday. Super Typhoon Hinnamnor made landfall on South Korea's Geoje early Tuesday morning, possibly becoming the most powerful storm ever to hit the country. The strength of the typhoon when it hit Geoje was not immediately available, but the Korea Meteorological Administration (KMA) said the typhoon was classified "very strong" when it passed through the southern island of Jeju at around midnight with an atmospheric pressure of 945 hectopascals (hPa) at its center and maximum wind speed of 45 kilometers per second. "Hinnamnor is a very big typhoon with a radius of 400 kilometers, and can carry strong winds and heavy rainfall almost all across the country," Han Sang-un, the chief forecaster at the KMA, told a press briefing, urging to minimize possible casualties. After brushing past Jeju, Typhoon Hinnamnor was forecast to pass 180 kilometers southwest of the southern port city of Busan, with an atmospheric pressure of 945hPa at its center, the KMA said earlier. A heavy rain warning was issued earlier for all parts of the country, but the warning has been lifted in areas including the western port city of Incheon after the typhoon moved past Jeju and continued to move eastward. Almost all schools in Jeju were closed. Nationwide, 62 elementary, middle and high schools temporarily closed down, 548 schools switched to online learning. A series of ferry services and flights were canceled across the country. Across the country, a total of 361 domestic flights had been cancelled as of Monday afternoon. (QNA)
A woman who is believed to be related to two children whose remains were found in suitcases in New Zealand is in South Korea, Seoul police told AFP Monday. Last week, New Zealand police said they had discovered the remains of two children, who are thought to have been between five and 10 years old when they died, in suitcases. The bodies were discovered after an unsuspecting family bought a trailer-load of items -- including the suitcases -- at an auction for abandoned goods. New Zealand police have said the bodies were likely to have been in storage for several years, which has complicated the investigation into the crime. Police said Monday that a woman of Korean descent, who is believed to be related to the children, is currently in South Korea. "We confirm that she is in South Korea, and that she is a New Zealand national of Korean descent," an official at the Korean National Police Agency told AFP. She arrived in the South in 2018 and had no record of leaving the country since that year, he added. "New Zealand police are leading this investigation and we intend to cooperate at their request," the official added. Police have been checking hours of CCTV footage, but key moments could have already been erased due to the delay between when the victims died and the discovery of the bodies. Both the storage unit and property where the suitcases were taken have been thoroughly examined by forensic experts. Authorities in New Zealand reiterated last week that the family who found the bodies were not connected to the homicide. They are receiving support to help deal with the trauma, the country's Detective Inspector Tofilau Faamanuia Vaaelua said at the time.
South Korea and the United States began their largest joint military drills in years on Monday with a resumption of field training, officials said, as the allies seek to tighten readiness over North Korea's potential weapons tests. The annual summertime exercises, renamed Ulchi Freedom Shield this year and scheduled to end on Sept. 1, came after South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol, who took office in May, vowed to "normalise" the combined exercises and boost deterrence against the North. South Korea separately launched the four-day Ulchi civil defence drills on Monday, designed to boost government readiness, for the first time since the coronavirus pandemic emerged. The military and civil exercises are aimed at improving the country's preparedness to match the changing patterns of war, with evolving cyber threats against key facilities such as chip factories and supply chains, Yoon said. "Maintaining peace on the Korean peninsula is built on our airtight security posture," Yoon told a cabinet meeting, calling for thorough exercises based on real-world scenarios. The drills were the largest since 2017 after being scaled back because of COVID-19 and as Yoon's predecessor sought to restart talks with Pyongyang, which has called the exercises a rehearsal for invasion. North Korea fired two cruise missiles from the west coast last week, after South Korea and the United States kicked off preliminary training for the exercises. North Korea has conducted missile tests at an unprecedented pace this year and is ready to conduct its seventh nuclear test at any time, Seoul officials said. Yoon has said his government is willing to provide economic aid if Pyongyang takes steps toward denuclearisation, but North Korea has rebuffed his offer, openly criticising him. Seoul's defence ministry has said the allies would stage 11 field training programmes, including one at brigade-level - involving thousands of soldiers - this summer. To better counter North Korea's growing missile threats targeting the South's capital, the ministry said it would improve missile detection capabilities and push for an early deployment of a new interceptor system. The United States, South Korea and Japan participated in a recent ballistic missile defence exercise off Hawaii's coast, the first such drills since 2017, when relations between Seoul and Tokyo hit their lowest point in years.
At least eight people died in and around Seoul overnight, South Korean authorities said yesterday, after torrential rain knocked out power, caused landslides and left roads and subways submerged. The southern part of the national capital received more than 100mm of rain per hour on late Monday, with some parts of the city hit with 141.5mm, the heaviest rainfall in decades, according to Korea Meteorological Administration (KMA). The accumulated rainfall in Seoul since midnight Monday stood at 451mm as of 2pm yesterday, with more forecast. President Yoon Suk-yeol yesterday visited a semi-basement apartment where three family members had died the night before after swift moving flood waters filled the space. The dangers of such underground flats, called banjiha, were famously depicted in a flooding scene in the 2020 Oscar-winning film “Parasite.” Yoon told the area’s residents he would try to ensure their lives returned to normal as quickly as possible, and he instructed officials to look at measures to better ensure housing safety, according to a statement from his office. At least five people had died in Seoul and three others in the neighbouring Gyeonggi Province by early yesterday, the central disaster and safety countermeasures headquarters said. Four, including the three family members, had died after being drowned in flooded buildings, one was believed to have been electrocuted, another person was found under the wreckage of a bus stop, and the others two died in a landslide, it said. At least nine people were injured, while seven were missing. In the glitzy, dense Gangnam district, some buildings and stores were flooded and were without power, while cars, buses and subway stations were submerged, leaving people stranded. Lim Na-kyung, a 31-year-old office worker, recounted her fears of Monday evening, saying the situation reminded her of a scene from the 1997 film “Titanic”. “I had to keep going higher and higher because the building was submerging at a fast pace...I couldn’t believe that I was trapped in building with 40 other people in the middle of Gangnam district,” said the mother-of-two, who eventually had to spend the night at a Pilates centre on the fourth floor. Data showed at least 765 facilities had been damaged. About 52 highways and roads have been blocked. About 391 people were displaced in the greater Seoul area, most of whom had to stay at local schools and gyms.
K-pop sensations BTS may be allowed to continue performing and preparing for international concerts even while they undertake their mandatory military service in South Korea, the defence minister said Monday. All South Korean able-bodied young men under the age of 30 must perform around two years of military service, mainly due to the fact that the country remains technically at war with nuclear-armed North Korea. The spectre of conscription has long hovered over BTS, with its seven male stars ranging in age from 24-year-old Jungkook to Jin, 29, who must sign up by next year or risk jail time. Defence Minister Lee Jong-sup said during a parliament session that it could be in the national interest to find a way to keep the global stars on stage during their time in South Korea's military. "I think there will be a way to give them time to practice in the military and to allow them to perform together if there is an overseas performance scheduled," he said. "Since many people value the fact of serving in the military itself very highly, it could be more helpful for their popularity," he added, responding to a lawmaker's question on the topic. South Korea grants exemptions from military service to some elite athletes, such as Olympic medallists, and classical musicians -- but pop stars do not qualify. The lack of exemptions for BTS, who are credited with generating billions of dollars for the South Korean economy, has sparked fierce debate in the past. Who does -- and does not -- undertake military service is a highly-charged issue in South Korea. Refusing to serve is a crime, and can lead to imprisonment and social stigma, but even so some South Koreans go to extreme measures -- trying to gain weight or having unnecessary surgery, for example -- to evade service, AFP has reported. BTS have not shown any signs of trying to evade the draft. "As a South Korean young man, I believe military service is a natural course. And as I have always said, I will answer the country's call whenever it comes," Jin said in 2020. The group had already benefited from a 2020 revision to South Korea's conscription law, which moved the age limit for some entertainers to sign up from 28 to 30 years old. A majority of South Koreans -- 59 percent -- favour expanding military service exemptions, but there is staunch opposition from young men who have already done it, local reports say.
When South Korean rapper Psy released Gangnam Style a decade ago, few anticipated the scale and speed of its success, and how it would help usher in the streaming revolution. Its madcap music video with the now-trademark horse-riding dance was released on July 15, 2012. It focused on the local, poking fun at Seoul’s wealthy Gangnam district — but within weeks it went global. By December that year, it had reached 1bn views on YouTube. It birthed countless memes and parodies, with the giddy-up dance performed by flash mobs from Azerbaijan to New Zealand. And Gangnam Style showed the music industry what could be achieved through Internet platforms and social media, especially by artists outside the West who did not perform in English. Psy “broke the rules of the game. The traditional marketing and promotional playbooks were essentially thrown out the window,” said Bernie Cho, president of the Seoul-based DFSB Kollective artist and label services agency and an expert on the South Korean music industry. It showed “the importance, the impact, the influence of YouTube on pop music and pop culture worldwide”. In 2012, the streaming industry was still in its infancy, providing less than seven percent of global music revenues, according to industry group IFPI. But the stunning success of Gangnam Style— as well as viral videos from performers such as Justin Bieber and Carly Rae Jepsen — showed a new way for acts from anywhere in the world to not only release music but also tap into online ad revenue, find sponsors and get booked for concerts, analysts say. A decade later, streaming is the main source of revenue in the global music industry — 65% in 2021, IFPI reported — with content available online via subscription-based services, YouTube, and short-form video apps such as TikTok. Gangnam Style is “an example of the power that a platform like YouTube could have to create interest in a particular video from a lot of different places in the world,” said Michelle Cho, an assistant professor at the University of Toronto who studies Korean pop culture. “The significance of the video...goes far beyond the content of the video. And it really has more to do with the way that it enabled people to imagine the possibilities of the platform.” Within months of its release, Gangnam Style was the most-viewed video on YouTube. It held that spot for more than three years. As of July 12 this year, it had close to 4.5bn views. Such was the online buzz for Gangnam Style and viral phenomena such as “Harlem Shake” that Billboard in 2013 changed how it compiles charts, adding streams on YouTube and other platforms to then-mainstream metrics such as radio and sales. “My one good job, helping K-pop, was changing the rules of Billboard,” Psy said during an interview in May, pointing to the popularity of Korean acts on YouTube. Gangnam Style shook South Korea too, becoming the country’s biggest cultural export and a source of national pride overnight. K-pop acts had tried to break into international markets before 2012 with some regional success in Asia, but they had failed to make a mark in huge and lucrative Western markets such as the United States. And then came Psy, who did not fit the profile of polished K-pop idols. “Industry executives, government officials, pundits, critics, fans...just assumed that the breakout star from Korea would likely be either a boy band or a girl band,” said DFSB’s Bernie Cho. Psy “proved to everybody that instead of a Korean version of a Western pop star or an international pop star, what the world wanted was something very authentic, original, unique.” The horse-riding dance was everywhere — performed on prime-time TV in the United States, in an English football stadium, and by Bollywood stars in India. Then-US President Barack Obama said his daughters had taught him “a pretty good Gangnam Style”. South Korea is a global entertainment powerhouse today, but in 2012, Gangnam Style was the first encounter with Korean pop culture for many audiences. “It was really influential in perhaps making Korea or Korean music or Korean media more of a common element of general knowledge in lots of places...certainly in the US, but also globally,” said scholar Michelle Cho. “That knowledge, that...familiarity definitely helps other content gain a foothold.”
North Korean leader Kim Jong-un ordered a strengthening of the country’s defence capabilities as he wrapped up a key meeting with top military officials, state media said yesterday, raising concerns about its possible addition of tactical nuclear weapons. The meeting has been closely watched due to growing speculation that Pyongyang could conduct its first nuclear test in five years, which US and South Korean officials have said could take place at “any time” now. Kim presided over the three-day Enlarged Meeting of the 8th Central Military Commission where top officials “approved an important issue of providing a military guarantee for further strengthening the country’s war deterrent,” official KCNA media said. During the meeting, North Korea made a rare mention of revising its war plans, and said it had decided to bolster the operational duties of its frontline units with “an important military action plan.” KCNA did not elaborate on the plan, which apparently targets South Korea, analysts said. “North Korea could have added the possible use of tactical nuclear weapons in its new operation plans given the use of the term war deterrent which it uses to refer to nuclear capabilities,” Hong Min, a senior fellow at the Korea Institute for National Unification in Seoul, said. KCNA on Thursday released a photo of the North’s top officials in a meeting with a map of what appeared to be the east coast of the Korean Peninsula, where South Korea’s nuclear power plants are located. Asked about North Korea’s meeting, South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol said Seoul was preparing a “firm response” on the North’s activities. The KCNA report did not directly mention North Korea’s nuclear or ballistic missile programme, but it said Ri Pyong Chol, who has been leading the North’s missile development, was elected as vice-chairman of the Party Central Military Commission. “Given Ri’s symbolic position in the North’s nuclear advancement process, the election demonstrates its will to accelerate the development of strategic and tactical weapons,” the Korea Institute’s Hong said. An official at Seoul’s unification ministry handling inter-Korean affairs said Pyongyang appeared to have intentionally disclosed the photo, and is likely to step up threats against the South down the road.
North Korea said Friday that hundreds of families have fallen ill with an unidentified intestinal disease, heaping pressure on a crumbling healthcare system already strained by Covid-19. Pyongyang announced its first coronavirus cases last month and activated a "maximum emergency epidemic prevention system", with leader Kim Jong Un putting himself front and centre of the government's response. Even so, the virus tore through the unvaccinated population of 25 million, with more than 4.5 million cases of "fever" and 73 deaths to date, according to figures published by state media. Building on the country's woes, the official KCNA this week announced a new "acute enteric epidemic" in South Hwanghae province, with Kim urging officials to "contain the epidemic at the earliest date possible". In a possible sign of the seriousness of the situation, Kim Yo Jong, Kim Jong Un's powerful sister, was one of a group of senior officials who reportedly personally donated medicine to try and help. The medicine will be delivered to "over 800 families suffering from the acute epidemic which broke out in some areas of South Hwanghae Province," state media KCNA reported Friday. The figure suggests at least 1,600 people have been infected with the enteric disease. The reports have sparked speculation that the unspecified disease may be cholera or typhoid. If confirmed the outbreak could worsen the country's chronic food shortages, as South Hwanghae province is one of the North's main agricultural regions. Experts have warned of a major public health emergency in the North, which has one of the world's worst medical care systems, should Covid spread. The impoverished country has poorly equipped hospitals, few intensive care units and no Covid treatment drugs or mass testing capability. "With the North's much outdated medical infrastructure, an acute intestinal sickness could flare at any time," an official from Seoul's unification ministry said, according to Yonhap news agency. Seoul is willing to assist the North in handling the new outbreak should Pyongyang wish to accept it, the official said. South Korea previously offered to send vaccines and other medical aid to the North to help it deal with its coronavirus outbreak. Pyongyang has not officially responded.
* Four rounds of talks yield no compromise * Cargoes of petrochemical materials still blocked * Shipments of soju liquor down to 60% of normal A week-long strike by truck drivers in South Korea has disrupted shipments to China of a key cleaning agent used by makers of semiconductor chips, the Korean International Trade Association (KITA) said on Tuesday. It was the first sign that the strike was affecting the global supply chain of chip production, having already cost South Korean industry more than $1.2 billion in lost output and unfilled deliveries. KITA said a Korean company that produces isopropyl alcohol (IPA), a chemical used in the cleaning of chip wafers, faces difficulties in shipping to a Chinese company that in turn supplies wafers to chipmakers. About 90 tonnes of the material, or a week's worth of shipments, have been delayed, the trade body said in a statement. It corrected an earlier statement that production had been disrupted, and clarified that the Chinese firm does not supply wafers to Samsung Electronics Co Ltd's chip production operations in China. Also facing problems because of the strike are IPA shipments by a major South Korean petrochemical company from its plant in the port city of Yeosu. Only an "essential amount" is being let through, said a person familiar with the matter, who sought anonymity and declined to identify the company because of the sensitivity of the matter. The company's output of IPA is used as an industrial cleaning agent in semiconductors and liquid crystal displays (LCD) among other applications, it said in its website. The truckers' union, which is protesting against soaring fuel prices and demanding guarantees of minimum pay, vowed to continue the strike after four rounds of talks with the government have failed to find a resolution. In a statement on Tuesday, it also condemned the transport ministry for being "neither willing to talk nor capable of resolving the current situation". Analysts expect the strike impact on domestic chipmakers to be limited, however, saying that both Samsung and world's second largest memory chip maker, SK Hynix, usually keep on hand three months or more of inventory for materials. "Both drastically increased inventory since Japan's export curbs on chip material in 2019 highlighted the issue," said Ahn Ki-hyun, senior executive director of the Korea Semiconductor Industry Association. Small business owners voiced concern about the havoc a lengthy strike could deal to recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic, as the truckers had launched their action less than two months after social distancing norms were lifted. "Small business owners are waiting helplessly," a dozen lobby groups for small business said in a joint statement, adding that shipments of liquor, food, farm and fisheries products had been blocked. An official at HiteJinro Co Ltd, the biggest brewer of soju, the South Korean liquor, said its shipments were cut about 40% by the strike. Large retailers were sending their own trucks to ensure inventory, but supplies were drying up for some small businesses, such as convenience stores, the official added.
* N.Korea missile tests described as 'serious, unlawful' * US, S.Korea, Japan to up trilateral defence cooperation * Experts and officials say North ready for nuclear test * Pyongyang urged to accept aid as Covid-19 spreads North Korea's recent missile tests were "serious, unlawful" provocations, senior officials from South Korea, the United States and Japan said on Wednesday, urging Pyongyang to return to dialogue and accept offers of Covid-19 aid. South Korea Vice Foreign Minister Cho Hyun-dong, US Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman and Japanese Vice Foreign Minister Takeo Mori made the comments as they gathered in Seoul, three days after North Korea conducted the latest in a series of missile tests. The three-way meeting of the countries' No. 2 diplomats, the first such gathering since November and the first since South Korea's President Yoon Suk-yeol took office in May, highlighted the urgency and gravity of North Korea's intensifying weapons tests. Mori's visit also marked such trip by the Japanese vice foreign minister since late 2017 amid strained bilateral ties over issues including Japan's occupation of the Korean peninsula and war-time labour. Seoul and Washington officials have said North Korea is ready for what would be its first nuclear test since 2017, which Sherman has said would trigger a strong and clear response. The trio urged Pyongyang to abide by international sanctions and immediately cease actions that "escalate tensions or destabilise the region," a joint statement said. They also pledged to ramp up trilateral security cooperation to curb the North's threats, with Sherman reaffirming the US defence commitments, including extended deterrence. "They stressed that a path to serious and sustained dialogue remains open and urged the DPRK to return to negotiations, while also expressing their hope that the DPRK will respond positively to international offers of assistance to fight against Covid-19," the statement said, referring to North Korea by its the initials of its official name, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea. North Korea has carried out at least 18 rounds of weapons tests this year, underscoring its evolving nuclear and missile arsenals. In its latest test, North Korea fired eight short-range ballistic missiles, likely its largest single launch, a day after South Korea and the United States ended joint military drills involving an American aircraft carrier. The allies launched eight surface-to-surface missiles on Monday in their own show of force responding to the North's test. South Korea's President Yoon Suk-yeol, who took office in May, and US President Joe Biden vowed at their recent summit to deploy more US strategic military assets as part of efforts to bolster the extended deterrence. North Korea has been grappling with its first confirmed coronavirus outbreak since last month. It has reported more than 4.2 million patients with fever symptoms among its 25 million population, but never confirmed how many tested positive for the virus, lacking in test kits and medical supplies. Seoul and Washington said they had respectively offered Covid aid but Pyongyang did not respond, even as the World Health Organization warned of a worsening Covid-19 situation there. "The United States remains prepared to meet the DPRK without preconditions and we iterate again, we have no possible intent toward the DPRK," Sherman told a joint news conference. Seoul officials have said Pyongyang has conducted multiple experiments with a detonation device in preparation for its seventh underground nuclear explosion. The nuclear test could come as early as next week ahead of a planned plenary meeting of the ruling Workers' Party's powerful central committee, some analysts said. "The meeting is primarily designed to review economy and other policy issues, but it could also touch on nuclear policy," said Cheong Seong-chang, director of South Korea's Sejong Institute's North Korea studies centre, referring to previous meetings held shortly after nuclear tests in 2013 and 2017.