S Korean cargo ship Stellar Daisy vanishes in South Atlantic

A huge South Korean cargo ship which had 24 people on board has gone missing in the South Atlantic.

Two Filipino sailors found on a life raft were rescued, AFP reported, citing a Uruguayan navy spokesman.

On Friday, a crew member sent a text saying the 312m-long (1024ft) Stellar Daisy freighter was taking on water.

The Uruguayan navy alerted merchant ships in the area, which began a search. A navy spokesman said they had reported a strong smell of fuel.

The two people rescued had been found by commercial ships aiding the search, Yonhap news agency said.

“A search operation is continuing for the 22 people,” a South Korean foreign ministry official told Reuters.

South Korea also requested assistance in the search from Brazil and Uruguay, the official said.

The ship, a Very Large Ore Carrier (VLOC) with a capacity of 260,000 tonnes, was being operated by a South Korean company but was flagged to the Marshall Islands, and had 16 Filipinos and 8 South Koreans on board.

It had departed from Brazil, reports said.

Computer ‘worm’ removed at South Korea nuclear operator

Seoul – South Korean authorities have found evidence that a low-risk computer “worm” had been removed from devices connected to some nuclear plant control systems, but no harmful virus was found in reactor controls threatened by a hacker.
Korea Hydro & Nuclear Power said it would beef up cyber security by hiring more IT security experts and forming an oversight committee, as it came in for fresh criticism from lawmakers following recent hacks against its headquarters.

The nuclear operator, part of state-run utility Korea Electric Power, said earlier this month that non-critical data had been stolen from its systems, while a hacker threatened in Twitter messages to close three reactors.

The control systems of the two complexes housing those reactors had not been exposed to any malignant virus, Seoul’s energy ministry and nuclear watchdog said in a joint statement on Tuesday, adding the systems were inaccessible from external networks.

Energy Minister Yoon Sang-jick told a parliamentary session that evidence of the presence and removal of a “worm” – which the ministry said was probably inadvertently introduced by workers using unauthorised USB devices – was unrelated to the recent hacking incidents, drawing scepticism from some lawmakers.

“I doubt control systems are perfectly safe as said,” Lee Jung-hyun, a lawmaker in the ruling Saenuri party, told the committee hearing.

Worries about nuclear safety in South Korea, which relies on nuclear reactors for a third of its power and is the world’s fifth-largest nuclear power user, have mounted since the 2011 Fukushima disaster in Japan and a domestic scandal in 2012 over the supply of reactor parts with fake security certificates.

“We will prepare fundamental improvement measures by enhancing nuclear power’s safe operation and hiking information security systems to the highest level following this cyber attack case,” Korea Hydro and Nuclear Power said in a statement.

Seoul prosecutors have not ruled out possible involvement of North Korea in the cyber attack on the nuclear operator, which Pyongyang has denied.

Korea Hydro and Nuclear Power President and CEO Cho Seok told the hearing that all control systems of the country’s 23 nuclear reactors were safe against malignant codes. On Sunday, he said that cyber attacks on non-critical operations at the company’s headquarters were continuing, although he did not elaborate for security reasons.

The nuclear plant operator said on Tuesday it was increasing the number of staff devoted to cyber security from 53 to around 70, and would set up a committee of internal and external experts to oversee security.

Chun Soon-ok of the opposition New Politics Alliance for Democracy party said: “The government’s nuclear power policies have lost people’s trust and whatever broke out only makes people concerned more.”

South Korea ship sinks off Russia

Rescuers searched on Monday for 52 people missing after a South Korean fishing ship they were working on sank in the Bering Sea, an official said. At least one person died.

Authorities rescued seven crew members and recovered one body, but weather and water conditions were complicating the search for the others, the official, from the South Korean fisheries and oceans ministry, said on condition of anonymity because of office rules.

The crew included 35 Indonesians, 13 Filipinos, 11 South Koreans and one Russian inspector.

The ministry official said it’s believed that the ship, which was catching pollock, began to list after stormy weather caused seawater to flood its storage areas. The official said the 2 100-ton ship was 35 years old.

The South Korean foreign ministry said it asked Russian officials to work quickly to rescue the other crew members.

Kim Kang-ho from Sajo Industries, which owns the ship, said it left for the Bering Sea from a port in Busan, South Korea, on July 10. There are five South Korean-owned ships currently fishing in the Bering Sea to catch pollock, which is a winter delicacy in South Korea, Kim said.

South Korea court sentences ferry operator chief to 10 years in jail

SEOUL – A South Korean court on Thursday sentenced the head of the company that operated a ferry which capsized in April to 10 years in jail over his role in the country’s worst maritime disaster in decades.

Kim Han-sik, the chief executive of Chonghaejin Marine, was found guilty of negligence causing death and embezzlement.

His sentence was the toughest penalty handed down to anyone other than the ferry’s crew over the deaths of 304 passengers, most of them teenage children. Only 172 of the ferry’s 476 passengers and crew were rescued.

Kim apologized to the families of the victims but said last month that he was simply a paid employee of the company and the decisions that led to the disaster were made by the firm’s de-facto owner, Yoo Byung-un, media reports said.

Yoo, who was the head of the family that owned a holding company at the center of a network of business interests that included the ferry operator, was found dead in June.

The overloaded Sewol capsized while making a turn on a routine voyage to the holiday island of Jeju. The vessel was later found to be defective, with additions made to increase passenger capacity making it top-heavy and unstable.

The court found other executives of the firm to three to six years in prison for negligence and embezzlement. The officials were guilty of knowingly operating the ferry that was dangerous, and there was “considerable causal relationship” between their jobs and the disaster, the court said.

The 15 surviving crew members including the captain were convicted last week on negligence charges and sentenced to between five and 36 years in jail.

DISCLAIMER: Gaza-Tshisa News Room [G.N.R] Encourages Freedom Of Speech And The Expression Of Diverse Views.

Soldier gets 45 years for beating a conscript to death

A South Korean soldier was sentenced to 45 years in military prison on Thursday for beating a conscript to death in a highly publicised case of barrack-room bullying.

At a court martial in Yongin City, south of Seoul, the defendant, a sergeant surnamed Lee, was convicted of instigating repeated beatings of a young private named Yoon.

“The accused committed a crime that amounts to outright murder”, Yonhap news agency quoted the tribunal as saying.

Four other soldiers received jail terms of between 15 and 30 years and a sixth soldier was given a suspended prison sentence.

Private Yoon died on 6 April and investigators concluded death was caused by “crush syndrome”, major trauma to the skeletal muscle and secondary shock from prolonged violence.

Prosecutors had sought the death sentence against Lee who led the others in subjecting Yoon to regular bullying and assaults, including sessions of crude water-boarding.

He was also humiliated by being forced to lick the spit of other soldiers from the ground.

Barrack-room bullying has long tainted South Korea’s military service, which is mandatory for all able-bodied men between the ages of 18 and 35.

History of abuse

Conscripts, most of them in their early twenties, account for the lion’s share of the military’s 690 000 active personnel.

Experts say the pressures facing young servicemen can be daunting when, after what is often quite a cosseted childhood and teenaged youth, they are suddenly plunged into a world of harsh military discipline, especially for those posted to the border with North Korea.

Bullying has been blamed for numerous suicides and incidents where conscripts have turned their weapons on their comrades.

In June, a 22-year-old sergeant opened fire on members of his unit in the 22nd infantry division, killing five and wounding seven.

The sergeant, who was listed as a soldier requiring special observation, later told investigators he had been humiliated and constantly mocked.

Two army privates from the same division, also listed as mentally vulnerable, committed suicide later the same month.

The defence ministry in August said it would offer incentives and rewards for whistle-blowers who report any physical and verbal abuse in the barracks.

It also said it would toughen up penalties for those responsible and strengthen screening procedures to weave out draftees unfit for active or front-line duty.

DISCLAIMER: Gaza-Tshisa News Room [G.N.R] Encourages Freedom Of Speech And The Expression Of Diverse Views.

South Korea warns North of ‘strong’ response after exchange of fire

SEOUL – South Korea said on Monday it had warned North Korea of a “strong” response if it provoked an incident similar to one last week that sparked an exchange of machinegun fire across their border.

The warning came as South Korean President Park Geun-hye reiterated on Monday her commitment to engage with the North, despite what she called “the dual nature” of ties, saying the “door was always open to dialogue”.

South Korea said the North Korean firing was a “provocative act” that had violated the truce suspending their 1950-53 war and the complaint was reiterated in a notice the South sent the North late on Sunday.

“It is a stern warning of a strong response in the event of further provocation,” South Korean Defence Ministry spokesman Kim Min-seok told a briefing.

The exchange of fire on Friday began after North Korea fired shots at balloons carrying leaflets sent towards the North by South Korean activists critical of the North’s leadership.

North Korea has long criticised the leaflet drops as provocative and it has threatened to respond to them with force. But before Friday, it had never done so.

No one was hurt in the firing.

North Korea’s state media said on Saturday that expected talks with the South to try to improve ties were in danger of being cancelled because authorities in South Korea had allowed the activists to float their balloons.

“The leaflet-scattering operation … was a premeditated and deliberate politically motivated provocation perpetrated under the backstage wire-pulling of the U.S. and the South Korean authorities,” the North’s KCNA news agency said.

North Korea sent a high-level delegation on a surprise visit to the South on Oct. 4 and the two sides agreed to reopen dialogue, which has been stalled since February, late this month or early next.

Private groups in the South, often led by defectors from the North, cite their constitutional freedom of expression in releasing their balloons.

The South’s Unification Ministry, which handles relations with the North, repeated on Monday it had no legal justification to stop the leaflet drops but said authorities may try to step in to prevent them on the basis of ensuring public safety.

DISCLAIMER: Gaza-Tshisa News Room [G.N.R] Encourages Freedom Of Speech And The Expression Of Diverse Views.

S Korea fires warning shots after N Korea incursion

Seoul – The South Korean navy fired warning shots Friday to end a brief incursion by a North Korean patrol boat across the sensitive maritime border, Seoul’s defence ministry said.

It was the first such boundary violation in four months, and came ahead of Friday’s opening ceremony of the Asian Games in the South Korean port city of Incheon, in which North Korea is participating.

The patrol boat came around 900metres inside the South side of the disputed Yellow Sea border shortly after midday, a defence ministry spokesperson said.

“One of our naval vessels gave a verbal warning by loudspeaker and then fired six warning rounds,” the spokesman told GNR.

The North Korean ship returned across the border minutes later, he added.

The maritime boundary, which was unilaterally drawn by the US-led United Nations forces after the 1950-53 Korean War, was the scene of brief but bloody naval clashes in 1999, 2002 and 2009.

Suspected North Korean drone

The Korean conflict ended in an armistice instead of a peace treaty and technically the two Koreas are still at war.

Yonhap quoted an unidentified military official as saying the North Korean patrol boat had crossed the border to secure an apparently unmanned barge that had drifted into South Korean waters.

“It towed the barge back to the north,” the official was quoted as saying.

Earlier this week, a South Korean fisherman found a suspected North Korean drone in his net near a frontline island close to the Yellow sea border.

The wreckage, without a wing, engine or camera, was recovered when it got caught in his net off Baengnyeong island.

In March and April, South Korea retrieved crashed drones equipped with cameras in three different places, including Baengnyeong island and the northern border city of Paju.

DISCLAIMER: Gaza-Tshisa News Room [G.N.R] Encourages Freedom Of Speech And The Expression Of Diverse Views.

Huge crowds greet pope at martyr beatification

Seoul – Hundreds of thousands of people turned out Saturday for one of the highlights of Pope Francis’ trip to South Korea: The beatification of 124 Koreans killed for their faith over two centuries ago.

The streets leading up to Seoul’s iconic Gwanghwamun Gate were packed with Koreans honouring the ordinary lay Catholics who founded the church here in the 18th century.

 Korea’s church is unique in that it was founded not by missionaries or priests who brought the faith to the peninsula and converted people — as occurred in most of the world — but by members of Korea’s own noble classes who learned of Christianity by reading books about it.

These early Catholics were killed in the 18th and 19th centuries by the Joseon Dynasty, which tried to shut the Korean Peninsula off from Western influence.

A collective cheer erupted from the masses when Francis declared the 124 “blessed” — the first step toward possible sainthood. Many of the women in the crowd wore lace veils; others sported paper sun visors with “Papa Francesco” written across them, protecting them from the overcast, hazy skies.

Police barricade

The scene was impressive, with thousands of people neatly packed into fenced-in sections leading away from the altar, which was set up in front of Gwanghwamun, the south gate to Gyeongbokgung palace, with Inwang mountain looming above and the presidential Blue House on its lower slopes.

Police in green vests stood guard along the barricades and volunteers handed out water to guard against the warm, humid temperatures.

Police declined to give an estimate of the crowd size, but local media reported it had topped one million. The number was significant given that Catholics represent only about 10% of South Korea’s 50 million people.

“I’m so thankful that the pope visited South Korea,” said 75-year-old Yu Pil-sang, a Catholic who was trying to get a glimpse of the pope just outside the police barricade. “But I’m so sorry that all the ways to see the pope are blocked. I came to hear at least his voice.”

In his homily, Francis said the lessons of the martyrs are relevant today for Korea’s church, which is small but growing and is seen as a model for the rest of the world.

True treasure

“They were willing to make great sacrifices and let themselves be stripped of whatever kept them from Christ — possessions and land, prestige and honour — for they knew that Christ alone was their true treasure,” he said. “They challenge us to think about what, if anything, we ourselves would be willing to die for.”

He praised in particular the fact that ordinary lay people were so crucial to the church’s foundation and growth in Korea — a theme he was expected to develop later in the day when he meets with leaders of lay movements. The church is counting on such laymen and women to spread the faith in Asia, which the Vatican considers the future of the church.

En route to the altar before Mass, Francis stopped his open-topped car so he could get out and bless a group of families who lost loved ones in the April Sewol ferry sinking, in which more than 300 people, most of them high school students, were killed. On his white cassock, Francis wore a yellow ribbon given to him by the families a day earlier when he met with them privately to try to console them.

“We want the truth,” read a yellow banner, a reference to the families’ demands for an independent inquiry into the sinking. Officials said 400 families had been invited to the Mass.

Main figure

The main figure in the group that was beatified is Paul Yun Ji-Chung, who was born in 1759 and was among the earliest Catholics on the peninsula. He was beheaded in 1791 — the first Korean martyr — after he violated the traditional Confucian funeral rites for his mother.

In all, the Joseon Dynasty killed about 10 000 Catholics for refusing to renounce their faith.

Historians say Korea’s early believers were struck by the idea of a religion that preached universal equality in divine eyes at a time when the nobility’s discriminatory hierarchical system brutally exploited ordinary people.

St. John Paul II canonized another 103 martyrs during a visit to South Korea in 1984.

Francis began his day by praying at a monument in Seoul commemorating the martyrs on the site where many of them were killed.

He was supposed to have baptized the father of one of the Sewol victims who asked Francis to perform the sacrament. But a spokesman for the organizing committee of the trip, the Reverend Mattias Hur Young-yup, said the baptism would take place on Sunday.

DISCLAIMER: Gaza-Tshisa News Room [G.N.R] Encourages Freedom Of Speech And The Expression Of Diverse Views.

Pope warns of ‘cancer’ of despair in South Korea sermon

South Korea – Pope Francis warned of the “cancer” of despair that afflicts outwardly affluent societies and called on South Korean Catholics to reject “inhuman economic models” at a mass for 45,000 people Friday on the first papal trip to Asia in 15 years.

In an apparent reference to South Korea’s high suicide rate, he also warned of the “culture of death” that can pervade rapidly developing countries where the poor are marginalised.

It was the pope’s first public event following his arrival in Seoul on Thursday, which nuclear-armed North Korea marked by firing a series of short-range rockets into the sea.

A capacity crowd had crammed the World Cup stadium in Daejeon, some 160 kilometers (100 miles) south of Seoul, hours before the pope arrived to conduct the mass.

Among them were 38 survivors and relatives of victims of April’s Sewol ferry tragedy in which 300 people died, most of them schoolchildren.

Before the mass, Francis held a brief private audience with some of the relatives, who urged him to support their campaign for a full, independent inquiry into the Sewol sinking.

The tragedy has largely been blamed on a culture of regulatory negligence, fuelled by the drive to place profit over safety.

— Combat ‘unbridled competition’ —

In his homily, Francis called on South Korean Christians to combat “the spirit of unbridled competition which generates selfishness and strife” and to “reject inhuman economic models.”

He also spoke of the “cancer” of despair that can permeate societies where surface affluence hides deep inner sadness.

“Upon how many of our young has this despair taken its toll,” he said.

It was a message designed to resonate not just with South Koreans, but other emerging Asian nations where decades of rapid economic growth have thrown up stark social challenges.

Trees lining the streets leading to the stadium were tied with the yellow ribbons that have become the memorial symbol for those who died on the Sewol ferry.

“I’m a Protestant but I believe the papal visit will help heal the wounds from the Sewol disaster,” one of the victims’ relatives, Kim Hyeong-Ki, told GNR.

Thousands without tickets for the mass had cheered and waved flags as the pope rode to the venue in an open-topped car, stopping from time to time to give a personal blessing to young children and infants held up by their parents.

— ‘Unforgettable moment’ —

“I think this is the most important and unforgettable moment of my life,” said Han Hye-Jin, 26, an office worker in Daejeon.

“I hope the papal visit will help our country overcome sad things like the Sewol disaster,” Han said.

As the pope entered the stadium, the capacity crowd rose, waving white handkerchiefs and shouting “Viva Papa” and “Mansei” (“Long live” in Korean).

The mass was conducted on a raised, canopied stage with giant screens on either side for those high up in the stands, which were decorated with banners in Korean reading “We Will Always Follow you” and “We Love You”.

The pope’s visit has generated enormous public excitement in a country with a thriving Catholic community that punches well above its minority weight in one of Christianity’s most muscular Asian strongholds.

In the last national census to include religious affiliation, conducted in 2005, close to 30 percent of South Koreans identified themselves as Christian, compared to 23 percent who cited the once-dominant Buddhism.

The majority are Protestants, but Catholics are the fastest-growing group, with around 5.3 million adherents — just over 10 percent of the population.

“It’s just wonderful to be able to see him in person,” said Helena Sam, 46, a businesswoman in Daejeon.

“I only hope the pope’s message of peace and reconciliation will spread to our brothers and Catholic followers in North Korea,” she said.

North Korea had been invited to send a group of Catholics to attend a special inter-Korean “reconciliation” mass by Francis in Seoul next week, but declined, citing upcoming South Korea-US military drills.

The North pays lip-service to the freedom of worship but maintains the tightest controls over religious activity and treats unsanctioned acts of devotion as criminal.

The pope’s visit is very much aimed at fuelling a new era of growth for the Catholic church in Asia and Francis will get a chance to send a message to the region later Friday when he meets several thousand young Catholics gathered in Daejeon for Asian Youth Day.

DISCLAIMER: Gaza-Tshisa News Room [G.N.R] Encourages Freedom Of Speech And The Expression Of Diverse Views.

First woman wins maths ‘Nobel’ prize

Seoul – Iranian-born mathematician Maryam Mirzakhani on Wednesday became the first woman to be awarded the Fields Medal, mathematics’ equivalent to the Nobel Prize.

The professor at Stanford University in California was among four Fields Medal recipients at the International Congress of Mathematicians held in Seoul, and the first female among the 56 winners since the prize was established in 1936.

“This is a great honour. I will be happy if it encourages young female scientists and mathematicians”, Mirzakhani was quoted as saying on Stanford’s website.

“I am sure there will be many more women winning this kind of award in coming years”, she said.

Mirzakhani, aged 37, was born in Tehran and lived there until she began her doctorate work at Harvard University. She said she had dreamed of becoming a writer when she was young, but she pursued her enthusiasm for solving mathematical problems.

“It is fun, it’s like solving a puzzle or connecting the dots in a detective case. I felt that this was something I could do, and I wanted to pursue this path”, she said.

Mirzakhani was recognised for her work in understanding the symmetry of curved surfaces, according to the Stanford site.

The prizes are awarded every four years.

Wednesday’s prizes were presented by South Korean President Park Geun-hye, the first woman to hold that post.

DISCLAIMER: Gaza-Tshisa News Room [G.N.R] Encourages Freedom Of Speech And The Expression Of Diverse Views.

South Korea ferry owner’s body found

Seoul – South Korean police believe they have found the body of a fugitive businessman who owned the Sewol ferry that sank in April killing hundreds, a report said on Tuesday.

A massive manhunt had been launched for billionaire Yoo Byung-eun, the 73-year-old owner of ferry operator Chonghaejin Marine Co, who went on the run shortly after the vessel sank killing over 300, most of them school children.

A body found last month by police has matched the DNA of Yoo’s older brother, Yonhap news agency reported early on Tuesday, leading police to believe they have located the fugitive businessman’s corpse.

Yonhap reported that the body was discovered on June 12 in a plum field in Suncheon, a city 300km south of Seoul.

“We carried out a DNA test after finding a dead body in Suncheon, and the results fairly matched that of Yoo’s brother,” a police official said, quoted by Yonhap. “We need to look more closely into this, but the body is believed to be Yoo’s.”

Yoo was wanted for questioning on possible charges of embezzlement and criminal negligence, as prosecutors investigate the extent to which the disaster was caused by a lack of safety standards and regulatory violations.

DISCLAIMER: Gaza-Tshisa Encourages Freedom Of Speech And The Expression Of Diverse Views.

Surviving children of South Korea ferry disaster march to pursue full inquiry

SEOUL – Teenage survivors of South Korea’s worst maritime disaster in 20 years, many wearing yellow bracelets, walked out of classrooms on Tuesday and marched on parliament to demand enabling legislation for a inquiry into the more than 300 deaths.

More than half of the 75 children rescued from the ferry Sewol that capsized and sank on April 16 joined growing public calls for parliament to pass a special bill for an independent inquiry sought by victims’ families. More than 3.5 million signatures have been collected to demand its passage.

“The entire nation saw it on April 16. We ask that the truth behind the unfair deaths our friends suffered be told,” said a bespectacled boy taking part, who asked not to be identified.

“We don’t know much about the law, but if we don’t do this there is nothing we can do, so we ask that our wish is met.”

Of the 476 passengers and crew, 339 were children and teachers from Danwon Highschool on the outskirts of Seoul. Only 172 people were rescued and the rest are presumed to have drowned.

The children passed though the school’s stone gates and down a boulevard, mostly in silence.

Many wore the bracelets emblazoned with “Remember 0416” or sashes and kerchiefs made out of yellow pieces of cloth – the color chosen to express dissatisfaction with the authorities’ handling of the disaster.

Other marchers carried yellow flags. One sign read: “Shed light on our friends’ unfair deaths.”

“Our children are marching with their pure hearts to console parents of their friends and ask to find the truth of the disaster,” said Oh Ji-yeon, the father of one survivor.

The children made their way to a small park where 15 relatives of victims were undertaking the second day of a hunger strike to press for the bill. Marchers set up displays of yellow paper boats to draw attention to the strikers.

BOXES OF SIGNATURES

Nearby, organizers set up neat rows of boxes, covered in yellow paper, each containing some of the 3.5 million signatures backing the petition to parliament. Several dozen adults had earlier marched to the site carrying yellow umbrellas.

The Sewol’s 15 surviving crew members, including the captain, are on trial on charges ranging from homicide to negligence. Security forces have been engaged in a manhunt for more than two months for the head of the family that owns the holding company of the ferry operator.

Families of the victims and survivors say too little is being done to establish the truth about what led to the disaster on a routine journey to the holiday island of Jeju.

The special law demanded by the petitioners would ensure their participation in an independent probe into the sinking.

The families have demanded the right to name half the experts from the independent team to pursue the inquiry.

Parliament has agreed to consider the bill, but is split on legal grounds over whether to grant the group investigative authority. Investigators have established that the Sewol was overloaded and traveling too fast on a turn when it sank.

President Park Geun-hye’s government has come under heavy criticism for its handling of the disaster and the sluggish rescue operation. Her prime minister resigned but was reinstated after two failed attempts to find a replacement.

DISCLAIMER: Gaza-Tshisa Encourages Freedom Of Speech And The Expression Of Diverse Views.

South Korea warns North over missile tests

Seoul – South Korea on Tuesday warned North Korea it was playing a dangerous game with a series of missile, rocket and artillery tests that appear to be inching ever closer to their joint border.

In the latest incident on Monday, the North fired 100 shells into the sea from multiple rocket launchers in a live-fire drill close to the eastern maritime boundary.

“Some civilian tourists at the east coast even saw the water splash after the shells fell in the sea, which is very threatening to our country,” said ministry spokesperson Kim Min-Seok.

North Korea regularly fires off missiles and rockets, but the frequency of the recent tests – six in less than three weeks – is unusual.

They have included artillery shells, short-range rockets and Scud missiles with a range of 500km – all fired into the Sea of Japan (East Sea) from various locations.

Most have been personally monitored on-site by North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un.

Kim Min-Seok stressed that a stray missile or shell risked triggering a serious confrontation.

“Our stance is clear,” he told a press briefing.

“We will retaliate without hesitation if the North sends any of its missiles or shells to the south of the border.”

Muscle flexing

UN resolutions bar North Korea from conducting any launches using ballistic missile technology, but the response to the recent tests has so far been limited to verbal protests from Seoul, Tokyo and Washington.

Analysts see numerous possible motives behind the tests: pique over Chinese President Xi Jinping’s recent visit to South Korea, anger over joint South Korean-US military drills, and a general effort at some attention-seeking muscle flexing.

While guiding Monday’s live-fire exercise, Kim Jong-Un was quoted by the North’s official KCNA news agency as saying hostile forces were becoming more blatant in their moves to “isolate and stifle” North Korea.

Later the same day, US President Barack Obama and Xi Jinping had a telephone call during which they discussed the need to ensure North Korea complies with demands to dismantle its nuclear programme.

The North Korean tests have coincided with various peace overtures to Seoul, including a proposal to halt all provocative military activity.

Officials from both sides are due to hold rare talks on Thursday to discuss North Korea’s participation in the upcoming Asian Games in the South Korean port city of Incheon.

South Korean President Park Geun-Hye has accused Pyongyang of adopting a “two-faced attitude” by proposing a lowering of tensions while continuing its missile tests.

DISCLAIMER: Gaza-Tshisa Encourages Freedom Of Speech And The Expression Of Diverse Views.

North Korea rejects talks on S Korea missionary

Seoul – North Korea on Thursday rejected Seoul’s call for talks on the fate of a South Korean missionary sentenced to hard labour for life for allegedly spying and operating an underground church.

South Korea proposed on Tuesday that the two sides should meet at the border truce village of Panmunjom for discussion on Kim Jeong-Wook, who was captured in the North last October.

In a reply two days later, the North insisted that Kim’s fate should not be the object of debate because he broke the country’s law and was punished in accordance with it, the South’s unification ministry said in a statement.

The North has ignored Seoul’s repeated calls to free the missionary, and sentenced him to hard labour for life on charges of espionage, running an underground church and being involved in “anti-state propaganda and agitation”.

Fellow activists and missionaries said Kim had been providing shelter and food to North Korean refugees living in China’s north-eastern border city of Dandong.

Seditious elements

They said Kim had crossed the border to establish the whereabouts of some North Korean refugees arrested in Dandong by Chinese authorities and repatriated.

Although religious freedom is enshrined in the North’s constitution, it does not exist in practice. Religious activity is restricted to groups linked to the government.

Pyongyang views foreign missionaries as seditious elements intent on fomenting unrest.

A number of missionaries – mostly US citizens – have been arrested in the isolated communist state in the past. Some were allowed to return home after interventions by high-profile US figures.

US citizen Kenneth Bae, described by a North Korean court as a militant Christian evangelist, was sentenced last year to 15 years’ hard labour on charges of trying to topple the government.

The North is known to be currently holding two other US citizens, both tourists arrested this year.

DISCLAIMER: Gaza-Tshisa Encourages Freedom Of Speech And The Expression Of Diverse Views.

Man stuck in South Korea after son draws all over his passport

A Chinese man is stuck in South Korea after his four-year-old boy scribbled all over his passport.

The child took to the back page of his dad’s Chinese passport with a black pen and drew some really nice pictures of people, animals, and added a bit more hair to his dad’s face.

Now his dad is stuck in South Korea because of his unrecognisable documentation, and authorities have warned it is likely he won’t be able to travel home with his son, and the rest of his party.

The picture was originally posted on social networking site Weibo by the father, known only as Chen, alongside a plea for help.

DISCLAIMER: Gaza-Tshisa Encourages Freedom Of Speech And The Expression Of Diverse Views.

Four S Korea ferry crew charged with manslaughter

Seoul – The captain and three other crew members of the ferry that sank off South Korea last month were indicted on Thursday on charges of manslaughter through gross negligence, Yonhap news agency reported.

If convicted, Captain Lee Joon-Seok of the Sewol ferry, two navigators and a chief engineer could be handed the death sentence, although that penalty is very unlikely to be carried out.

They are accused of leaving the ship as it was sinking while telling passengers, mostly high school students on a school excursion, to stay where they were.

The four, together with 11 other lower-ranking crew members, are accused of being the first to scramble to safety, while hundreds of passengers remained trapped in the sinking vessel.

The four not only failed to issue an order for passengers to leave the ship but also kept to themselves the information that a rescue boat had arrived, investigators were quoted as saying by the Munhwa Ilbo daily.

They took off their uniforms and changed into civilian clothes, being aware that uniformed crew members should be the last to evacuate, the daily said.

Even after being instructed by maritime safety authorities to help passengers evacuate the ship, they failed to take any action and almost an hour later got on the first rescue boat, it said.

The death penalty is rarely applied in South Korea, where a moratorium has been in place since the last execution took place in late 1997. Currently, there are some 60 people on death row.

The 11 other crew members were indicted on less serious charges including wrongfully steering the vessel, and abandoning a ship and leaving passengers in a sinking boat without making efforts to rescue them.

Ferry interior collapsing

Coastguard spokesperson Ko Myung-Suk said on Thursday that a further five bodies were retrieved late on Wednesday, including one found floating on the surface.

The confirmed death toll now stands at 281, with 23 still missing.

The Sewol was carrying 476 people when it sank on 16 April after listing sharply to one side.

Of those on board, 325 were children from a high school in Ansan City in the southern suburbs of Seoul who were on an organised trip to the southern resort island of Jeju.

Initial investigations suggest the ferry was carrying up to three times its safe cargo capacity, and that it had been habitually overloaded.

Coastguard chief Kim Suk-Kyun said on Wednesday that divers engaged in the grisly and dangerous task of retrieving bodies were being seriously hampered as waterlogged partition walls inside the ship collapsed.

“As time goes by, the interior is caving in faster and faster, posing serious threats to divers’ safety,” he said.

One diver, Chun Kwang-Geun, said poor visibility inside the ship forced them to blindly grope through the debris to find victims.

“If we stumble upon something, we grope it by hand [to determine whether it is a body],” said the 40-year-old diver, who has been working on the scene since the day after the disaster.

“Many partition walls have collapsed, blocking our access,” he told the media.

Another diver, Lee Sun-Hyong, aged 35, said the collapsing walls threatened to cut off air supply to divers who mostly use breathing systems tethered to the surface.

DISCLAIMER: Gaza-Tshisa Encourages Freedom Of Speech And The Expression Of Diverse Views.

Angry relatives clash with police as Korea recovers more dead from ferry

JINDO, South Korea – Distraught relatives of hundreds of missing people inside a sunken South Korean ferry clashed with police on Sunday as coastguard divers retrieved more bodies from the ship and the number of confirmed dead rose to 49.

A rescue operation has turned into a grim search through the stricken vessel to recover the remaining 253 passengers, most of them schoolchildren on an outing, who are unaccounted for after Wednesday’s capsize.

Searchers retrieved 16 bodies overnight and coastguard officials said cranes would not be deployed to lift the ship off the seabed until the bodies had been recovered.

The 69-year-old captain, Lee Joon-seok, was arrested on Saturday on charges of negligence along with two other crew members, including the third mate who was steering at the time of the capsize.

Prosecutors said the mate was steering the Sewol through the waters where it listed and capsized for the first time in her career. The ship was on a 400-km (300-mile) voyage from Incheon to the southern holiday island of Jeju island.

Until Saturday night, coastguard divers had struggled to get into the passenger quarters of the ferry which sank in 27 meters (86 feet) of water in calm seas while on the well-traveled route.

Though shallow, the murky sea is subject to some of the fiercest currents around the Korean peninsula. But ropes have been fixed to guide divers into the vessel and back out.

“We are now putting in four guide lines, before there was only one, so their access will become faster,” Ko Myung-suk, a coast guard official, told a news briefing in the rescue center in the port of Jindo.

The sinking looks set to be the country’s worst maritime disaster in 21 years in terms of loss of life.

South Korean officials are still characterizing the operation as a “rescue” although marine experts say that it is unlikely that there are any survivors.

Up to 100 relatives gathered near a bridge linking Jindo island to the mainland and tried to march across to take their protest to the capital, Seoul.

But police formed two lines to prevent the pushing and shoving relatives reaching the bridge.

“Bring me the body,” said weeping mother Bae Sun-ok as she was comforted by two policemen at the bridge.

INVESTIGATION

Early reports suggest that the ferry may have turned sharply and then listed before capsizing.

It took about two hours to go over but passengers were ordered to stay put in their cabins and not go up to the deck where they might have been rescued.

Asked why that order was given instead of abandoning the ship, Lee, apparently overwhelmed by the scale of the disaster, told reporters on Saturday he feared they would have been swept out to sea in the strong, cold current.

Of the 476 passengers and crew, 339 were either pupils or teachers from a high school in Ansan, a commuter city outside Seoul.

Relatives gathered in a gymnasium in Jindo have spent four days and nights awaiting news of their loved ones.

The vice-principal of the school, who was on the ferry and survived the capsize, hanged himself outside the gymnasium.

Investigations are looking at how the cargo was stowed, the safety record of the ship operator and the actions of the crew.

Witnesses say the captain and other crew members left the sinking ship before many of the passengers and that orders to evacuate were either not given, or not heard.

Lee has not explained why he left the vessel.

DISCLAIMER: Gaza-Tshisa Encourages Freedom Of Speech And The Expression Of Diverse Views.

2 dead, many missing in sinking S Korean ship

Seoul, South Korea – Rescue boats and helicopters scrambled to pluck passengers, most of them high school students, from a ferry as it listed and slowly sank off the southwest coast of South Korea on Wednesday.

It’s unclear exactly how many of the 477 people on board were rescued. Many jumped from the listing ship to the freezing waters below.

At one point, South Korean authorities said 386 passengers had been rescued and that 104 remain unaccounted for. But later Wednesday, they said they couldn’t provide exact numbers.

What is known is that at least two people — a woman and a student — were confirmed dead.

The rescue operation was still underway six hours after the ferry first sent out distress signal.

Authorities could not immediately say what caused the ship to sink. The weather at the time of the incident in the area was clear.

‘I wanted to live’

Among the passengers the ferry, Sewol, was carrying were 325 students.

The group left from the port city of Incheon, just west of Seoul, for a four-day trip to the resort island of Jeju.

Around 9 a.m. local time, the ferry sent out its first distress call. It had begun to list.

A rescued student, Lim Hyung Min, told CNN affiliate YTN that he heard a loud bump. The ferry began to sink after that. Everyone was ordered to don life jackets and jump, he said.

Lim said he jumped into the sea before swimming to a rescue vessel.

“I had to swim a bit to get to the boat to be rescued,” he said. “The water was so cold and I wanted to live.”

As rescue crews dashed desperately to rescue passengers, the ferry slowly tilted on its side.

With the clock ticking, the 6,800-ton ferry sank. Only its white and blue hull remained above water.

Local media, including CNN affiliate YTN, reported that all students aboard the ship had been rescued. The South Korean Coast Guard hasn’t confirmed those accounts.

Passenger Kim Seung Mok said that, despite his efforts and those of others, he couldn’t get to several passengers on one of the decks.

“I stayed till the last to rescue people at the hall,” Kim told YTN. “But the water was coming in so fast (that) some didn’t make it out.”

DISCLAIMER: Gaza-Tshisa Encourages Freedom Of Speech And The Expression Of Diverse Views.