Tag Archives: south korea

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SKorea Plans to Deploy Disaster Relief Team to Ebola-hit Africa

by STEVE HAN

South Korea plans to send a disaster relief team to aid West Africa’s efforts to contain the spread of the Ebola virus, said President Park Geun-hye on Thursday.

At the biennial Asia-Europe Meeting in Milan, Park said that a group of South Korean medical workers will provide support to fight the deadly Ebola outbreak in Africa. Park’s announcement after the United Nations urged the international community to lend support as the continent struggles to contain the deadly disease, which has already killed 4,5000 people.

“The decision to send medical personnel was made as the Ebola outbreak has evolved into a serious crisis that threatens the stability of the international community,” South Korean foreign ministry said in a statement.

The South Korean government will hold a meeting as early as next week to finalize details, including the size of the medical team. Meanwhile, the Blue House has already pledged $5.6 million to support the fight against the virus.

Image courtesy of Ecomedia

Pantech

South Korean Smartphone Maker Pantech Files for Bankruptcy in the U.S.

by REERA YOO

South Korean phone maker Pantech Co. sought bankruptcy protection in the U.S. Thursday after its flagship smartphone tanked in the mobile device market, which is dominated by tech giants Samsung, LG, and Apple.

According to the Wall Street Journal, Pantech filed for Chapter 15 — the section of the Bankruptcy Code that protects foreign companies from U.S. lawsuits while they restructure overseas — at the U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Atlanta. The company listed total assets of as much as $500 million and debts of as much as $1 billion in its petition.

In August, Pantech filed for court receivership in South Korea after it had racked up $961 million in debt at the end of its first quarter. Until last year, Pantech was South Korea’s third largest smartphone manufacturer after Samsung and LG, but the company’s sales plummeted due to a 45-day ban imposed earlier this year by the Korea Communications Commission as part of a government crackdown on excessive handset subsidies.

Pantech also relies heavily on sales in South Korean market, where it faces a saturated market and intense competition. Last year, South Korea’s smartphone penetration rate reached 73 percent, causing domestic sales to slow considerably. Even Samsung, the world’s largest smartphone maker, suffered from market saturation as its third-quarter operating profit dropped by nearly 60 percent.

According to Bloomberg, Pantech submitted a debt workout plan to its South Korean creditors in March and started a receivership program in August. A judge has yet to be assigned to their Chapter 15 case.

Photo courtesy of Koogle TV

South Korea Concert Accident

16 Dead After Ventilation Grate Collapses at K-pop Concert

KIM TONG-HYUNG, Associated Press

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — Sixteen people watching an outdoor pop concert in South Korea fell 20 meters (60 feet) to their deaths Friday when a ventilation grate they were standing on collapsed, officials said.

Photos of the scene in Seongnam, just south of Seoul, showed a deep concrete shaft under the broken grate.

Seongnam city spokesman Kim Nam-jun announced the deaths in a televised briefing and said 11 others were seriously injured.

Fire officials, speaking on condition of anonymity because of office rules, said the victims were standing on the grate while watching an outdoor performance by girls’ band 4Minute, which is popular across Asia.

About 700 people had gathered to watch the concert, which was part of a local festival. Fire officials said many of the dead and injured appeared to be commuters who stopped to watch the concert after leaving work. Most of the dead were men in their 30s and 40s, while five were women in their 20s and 30s, they said.

Kim said it was believed that the grate collapsed under the weight of the people. Prime Minister Chung Hong-won visited an emergency center in Seongnam and urged officials to focus on helping the victims’ families and ensure the injured get proper treatment, Kim said.

A video recorded by someone at the concert that was shown on the YTN television network showed the band continuing to dance for a while in front of a crowd that appeared to be unaware of the accident.

Dozens of people were shown standing next to the ventilation grate, gazing into the dark gaping hole where people had been standing to watch the performance. YTN said the ventilation grate was about 3 to 4 meters (10 to 12 feet) wide. Photos apparently taken at the scene showed that the ventilation grate reached to the shoulders of many passers-by.

The collapse came as South Korea is still struggling with the aftermath of a ferry disaster in April that left more than 300 people dead or missing.

For a time, the sinking jolted South Korea into thinking about safety issues that had been almost universally overlooked as the country rose from poverty and war to an Asian power.

The tragedy exposed regulatory failures that appear to have allowed the ferry Sewol to set off with far more cargo than it could safely carry. Family members say miscommunications and delays during rescue efforts doomed their loved ones.

Analysts say many safety problems in the country stem from little regulation, light punishment for violators and wide ignorance about safety in general — and a tendency to value economic advancement over all else.

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Associated Press writer Youkyung Lee contributed to this story. Photo courtesy of AP/Yonhap.

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

South Korea: Anti-North Korea Protest in Paju

SKorean Activists Vow to Send More Leaflets Across Border

by HYUNG-JIN KIM, Associated Press

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — South Korean activists vowed Thursday to launch balloons next week carrying anti-Pyongyang leaflets across the border into North Korea, days after their campaign triggered gunfire between the rival Koreas.

North Korea considers leaflets an attack on its government and has long demanded that South Korea ban activists from sending them. South Korea refuses, saying the activists are exercising freedom of speech.

Last Friday, North Korea opened fire after propaganda balloons were floated from the South. South Korean soldiers returned fire, but there were no reports of casualties. North Korea has warned it would take unspecified stronger measures if leafleting continues.

South Korean activist Choi Woo-won said Thursday his group won’t yield to the North’s threats and plans to send about 50,000 leaflets on Oct. 25.

“Our government and people must not be fazed even though North Korea, the criminal organization, is blackmailing us,” said Choi, a university professor.

He said his leaflets will urge a military rebellion against North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. “The leaflets will tell North Korean soldiers to level their guns at Kim Jong Un, launch strikes at him and kill him,” Choi said.

Another activist Lee Min-bok said he was also ready to fly millions of leaflets, which describe South Korea’seconomic prosperity and urges North Koreans to flee, as soon as weather conditions such as wind direction are favorable.

“No one can block my rights [to send leaflets],” said Lee, whose leafleting Friday from a South Korean border village was believed to have directly caused North Korea to start firing.

The leafleting was high on the agenda when military generals from the two Koreas met in a border village on Wednesday in the countries’ first military talks since early 2011. During the meeting, North Korea requested again that South Korea prevent leafleting, but South Korea said it could not comply, according to Seoul’s Defense Ministry.

Friday’s shootout came three days after navy ships of the two Koreas exchanged gunfire near their disputed western sea boundary, the scene of several bloody naval skirmishes between the countries in recent years.

South Korean military officials earlier described the Oct. 7 shootout as an exchange of warning shots. But they later revealed at least one of three South Korean navy ships involved aimed to destroy a North Korean ship but failed because of a mechanical problem in its artillery guns.

The shootout happened because the North Korean ship violated the sea boundary and opened fire in response to warning shots fired by the South Korean ship, according to officials at South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff. The North Korean quickly turned back to its waters after the South Korean ship began firing, they said.

Earlier, hopes for better relations were given impetus after a group of high-level North Korean officials made a rare visit to South Korea earlier this month and agreed to resume senior-level talks.

The Korean Peninsula remains in a technical state of war because the 1950-53 Korean War ended with an armistice, not a peace treaty.

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Associated Press writer Kim Tong-hyung contributed to this report. Photo courtesy of Lee Young-Ho/Sipa USA.

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

spy

Alleged North Korean Spy Sentenced to Three Years In Jail

by STEVE HAN

A female North Korean spy, who allegedly disguised herself as a defector, was sentenced to three years in prison by the South Korean Supreme Court on Wednesday, according to Yonhap News Agency.

 

South Korean prosecutors said that the 39-year-old spy, identified only by her last name Lee, used a special drug distributed by North Korea’s security department to “erase her memory and cheat the lie detector” during the intensive questioning by the South Korean spy agency, which puts all defectors through rigorous interrogation to prevent spying from North Korea.

According to the prosecution, North Korea sent Lee to monitor a defector carrying out anti-North Korean activities.

Lee initially confessed her spy activities in a lower court trial, but filed an appeal later to revise her testimony, claiming that she was forced to give her confession by the South Korean National Intelligence Service.

Lee’s lawyer, Park Joon-young, condemned the Supreme Court’s verdict, saying the ruling disregarded the truth.

“There’s no drug that erases one’s memory anywhere in the world,” Park reportedly said. “It’s disappointing that the ruling was based on false confessions.”

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[VIDEO] U.S. Marines and South Korean Army Bands Battle in Drum-off

by REERA YOO

The drums of war have never sounded so friendly.

The III Marine Expeditionary Force Band (III MEF) and the Republic of Korea Army Band (ROK) recently engaged in a lighthearted drum-off to kill time before a parade. Both bands gave impressive performances and seemed to enjoy themselves as they were seen cheering and smiling throughout the entire match, which was later ruled by a band leader as a tie.

The video has garnered more than 800,000 views after being uploaded last week. Majority of the viewers praised the two bands’ enthusiastic performances and good sportsmanship. One commenter even wrote, “This is how wars should be fought.”

Watch the epic drum battle below:

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Seoul Mayor Wants South Korea To Legalize Same-Sex Marriage

by STEVE HAN

Park Won-soon, the mayor of the South Korean capital Seoul, openly admitted that he supports same-sex marriage, sparking fierce debate in the country that still remains largely homophobic.

In an interview with San Francisco Examiner during his visit to the U.S. last week, Park said that he hopes to see South Korea become the first Asian country to legalize same-sex marriage. Although Park acknowledged that struggle for social acceptance that homosexuals face in South Korea will likely persist, he stressed that it is imperative for the country to protect the constitutional rights of its people.

“Many homosexual couples in South Korea are already together,” said Park. “They are not legally accepted yet, but I believe the Korean Constitution allows [same-sex marriage]. We are guaranteed the rights to the pursuit of happiness. Of course, there may be different interpretations to what that pursuit means.”

No Asian country currently allows same-sex marriage as of now, but Taiwan may be the first country to do so after its legislature recently began considering a bill to legalize it. When asked if he believes Taiwan could be Asia’s first Gay-friendly country, Park reportedly replied, “I hope Korea will be the first.”

As expected, Park’s interview drew heavy controversy back home. Shortly thereafter, he backtracked on his comments through a Seoul city official, clarifying that he was merely voicing a personal opinion rather than declaring that he will seek legalization of same-sex marriage. He also added that he did not use the word “hope” to express his wish for South Korea’s legalization of same-sex marriage.

Nonetheless, Park’s earlier comments shouldn’t come as a surprise to those familiar with the former human rights lawyer’s career in South Korean politics. As Park was running for reelection last year, he issued a permit for a gay parade led by more than 10,000 people in Seoul’s downtown amid strong opposition from Christian protesters, hundreds of whom blocked the street.

Christians comprise nearly one-third of the population in South Korea, a conservative country where Protestant churches are immensely influential. In a poll conducted by Gallup Korea last year, 67 percent of those surveyed said they oppose the legalization of same-sex marriage while only 25 percent said they would support it.

By his own admission, Park remains skeptical over the possibility of South Korea’s legalization of same-sex marriage, but he has been rather resilient in making an organized effort to raise awareness of LGBT issues in South Korea. In 2001, Park established the Beautiful Foundation (Park left the foundation in 2010 to run for mayor), which reportedly has been funding LGBT groups.

But critics still argue that Park is endorsing same-sex marriage as a tool to win political favor. They say that by promoting himself as a progressive thinker who supports same-sex marriage — in addition to free government health care for all Seoul residents, civil rights for undocumented immigrants and free lunches for students at public schools — Park is simply setting himself up against the country’s conservatives to garner public support among the young voters as he’s vying to run for the 2017 presidential election.

Although the majority of South Koreans oppose same-sex marriage, the perception has already changed among the younger generation. In the same Gallup Korea poll that showed 67 percent of the survey participants oppose same-sex marriage, 52 percent of those between ages 19 and 29 said they are in support while only 38 percent of them opposed the idea.

“Protestant churches are very powerful in Korea [so] it isn’t easy for politicians [to endorse same-sex marriage],” Park reportedly told the San Francisco Examiner. “It’s in the hands of activists to expand the universal concept of human rights to include homosexuals. Once they persuade the people, the politicians will follow. It’s in process now.”

Click here to read a related KoreAm feature story about South Korean efforts to support LGBTQ youth.

Image courtesy of Seoul Labor Party

daum kakao

Daum Kakao Apologizes for Security Concerns, Vows to Protect User Privacy

by REERA YOO

Lee Sirgoo, co-CEO of Daum Kakao, apologized to the public Monday for the messaging app’s initial handling of security issues and said it will stop fully cooperating with the government on its crackdown on online criticism, reports Yonhap.

“We would like to make an apology for causing anxiety and confusion to users due to our easy-going manner of coping with the issue,” said Lee. “We have been taking too much pride in our security, only believing that following policies would protect privacy.”

In mid-September, the South Korean government announced that it will be taking proactive measures to punish those deemed responsible for spreading malicious online rumors, particularly those surrounding President Park Geun-hye’s personal life. The announcement sparked fear among KakaoTalk users, who accused the government of censorship and monitoring their private messages in a real-time basis.

Daum Kakao firmly stated that it was not technologically equipped to offer the government real-time monitoring and provided a few additional security measures, but their efforts could not prevent a mass digital exodus of their users to foreign messengers such as Telegram.

According to the Associated Press, Daum Kakao received 2,131 requests for users’ information from authorities with search warrants during the first half of 2014, and it cooperated with nearly 61 court-approved requests by collecting messages stored on its servers for between three and seven days.

Lee said the company has stopped responding to court warrants authorizing wiretapping and collection of stored messages since Oct. 7, and will continue to doing so despite the possibility of facing legal sanction for refusing to cooperate with warrants.

“If our decision is a violation of the law, I, as the head of Daum Kakao, will bear any responsibilities,” Lee added. “We will come up with more elaborate detailed plans in the future.”

KakaoTalk has also recently adopted a new privacy mode that allows chat records to be stored solely on a user’s smart device, hindering investigators from accessing private messages. Starting next year, the messenger app will also introduce a new privacy feature that will delete chat records from its servers as soon as the messages have been read by their intended recipients, according to AP.

“We will continue to search for more necessary measures and make improvements down the road,” Lee said. “Kakao Talk has been growing on the back of users’ trust. We know it will take excruciating efforts to regain users’ trust.”