Tag Archives: Seoul

Seoul Mayor Park Won-soon found dead following massive search

Park Won-soon, the three-term mayor of South Korea’s capital, a fierce critic of economic inequality who was seen as a potential presidential candidate, was found dead early Friday. He was 64.

Police said Park’s body was found near a restaurant nestled in wooded hills stretching across northern Seoul after a more than seven-hour search involving hundreds of police officers, firefighters, drones and dogs.

They said there were no signs of foul play, but gave no further details on the cause of death.

The Seoul Metropolitan Government earlier said Park did not come to work on Thursday and had cancelled his schedule for the day.

His daughter reported him missing Thursday afternoon, saying he had given her a “will-like” verbal message and left home. He was last seen on security video entering a park at the mouth of the hills late Thursday morning.

Police officers carry Park’s body in Seoul early Friday. Police said his body was found near a restaurant nestled in wooded hills stretching across northern Seoul. (Kim Hong-ji/Reuters)

It wasn’t immediately clear what caused Park’s disappearance and death.

When asked about local media reports that one of his secretaries had filed a complaint against him involving alleged sexual harassment, Seoul police official Choi Ik-su confirmed that a complaint against Park had been filed with police on Wednesday but didn’t specify what he was accused of.

Human rights activist 

Park, a liberal human rights lawyer who once led two of South Korea’s most influential civic groups, was credited with winning the country’s first sexual harassment conviction as an attorney.

He was elected Seoul mayor in 2011, upsetting his conservative opponent as an independent candidate backed by opposition liberals. He became the city’s first mayor elected to a third term in June 2018 and had been considered a potential presidential candidate in the next election in 2022.

Park mostly maintained his activism as mayor, lamenting the country’s growing gap between rich and poor, gender inequality, and corrupt ties between large businesses and politicians.

Park is pictured during an event at Seoul City Hall on Wednesday, a day before he went missing. (Yonhap via Reuters)

He was also a vocal critic of Japan, which ruled the Korean Peninsula as a colony from 1910 to the end of the Second World War, over what he described as Tokyo’s refusal to sincerely repent for atrocities such as forced labour and a system of sexual slavery for Japanese troops.

Despite positioning himself as a champion of the poor and powerless, Park was criticized for pushing ahead with aggressive redevelopment projects that razed old commercial and housing districts and drove out tenants who couldn’t afford the spike in rents.

During his first terms, Park established himself as a fierce opponent of former conservative president Park Geun-hye, and openly supported the millions of protesters who flooded the streets of his city in late 2016 and 2017 calling for her ouster over a corruption scandal. Months after her impeachment, Park Geun-hye was formally removed from office by a court ruling in March 2017 and is currently serving a decades-long prison term for bribery, abuse of power and other charges.

Park, left, pictured with London Mayor Sadiq Khan, centre, and Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo during a summit on air pollution in Paris in March 2017. (Gonzalo Fuentes/Reuters)

In recent months, Park Won-soon led an active campaign against the coronavirus as it spread in the city, shutting down thousands of nightspots and issuing an administrative order banning rallies in major downtown streets.

South Korea has seen the sudden deaths of key political figures before.

Former liberal president Roh Moo-hyun, who was a close friend and mentor of current President Moon Jae-in, leapt to his death in 2009, a year after leaving office, amid allegations that family members had taken bribes from a businessman during his presidency. Former military dictator Park Chung-hee, the father of Park Geun-hye, was assassinated by his spy chief during a late-night drinking session in 1979.

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Short track world championships postponed in Seoul due to coronavirus outbreak

Short Track

The International Skating Union on Wednesday announced it has put the world short track speeding championships set for March 13-15 in Seoul on hiatus due to the coronavirus outbreak.

ISU exploring possible rescheduling or relocation of speed skating event

Canadian short track star Kim Boutin and her speed skating teammates won’t be headed to Seoul next month to compete at the world championships after the International Skating Union put the event on hiatus Wednesday due to the coronavirus outbreak. (Jens Meyer/Associated Press)

The International Skating Union on Wednesday announced it has put the world short track speeding championships set for March 13-15 in Seoul on hiatus due to the coronavirus outbreak.

Authorities in the South Korean capital ordered the closure of the Mokdong Ice Rink and cancellation of all competitions.

The ISU is currently exploring the possibility of rescheduling or relocating the competition before making a final decision on a complete cancellation of the season world championships.

WATCH | CBC Sports’ Scott Russell says ‘business as usual’ for Tokyo organizers:

CBC Sports’ Scott Russell explains how Olympics plans have been adjusted because of the coronavirus. 5:17

In a statement, Speed Skating Canada supported the ISU’s decision to postpone short track worlds.

“The ISU has been working diligently alongside the Korea Skating Union to evaluate the situation and SSC appreciates that the decision made today takes into account the health and safety of all participants.

“We will continue to monitor the situation and await a final decision from the ISU on the rescheduling, relocation or cancellation of the event. The health and safety of our athletes and staff are paramount and will be at the forefront of any decision regarding Canada’s participation at the World Championships.”

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North Korea calls for U.S. to drop sanctions as Seoul probes illicit coal shipments

North Korean state media on Monday urged the United States to drop sanctions as South Korea said it was investigating nine cases of coal shipments to the North that potentially violated UN resolutions.

Pyongyang had demonstrated good faith by ending nuclear weapons testing and returning the remains of U.S. troops killed in the 1950-53 Korean War, and the resolutions had lost a reason to exist, said the Rodong Sinmun, the official newspaper of the Central Committee of the Workers' Party of Korea.

The statements came days after a confidential United Nations report concluded that North Korea had not halted nuclear and missile program, in breach of UN resolutions, and continued illegal trade in oil, coal and other commodities.

How could the sanctions, which were a stick the U.S. administration had brandished as part of its hostile policy against us, promote the two countries' amity?– Rodong Sinmun newspaper

South Korea is examining nine cases in which coal from North Korea disguised as Russian products was possibly brought in, Seoul's foreign ministry and customs officials said.

They declined to detail the number of ships or identify the companies involved, saying the investigation was in the final phase following raids and forensic analysis, but some cases might prove lawful.

North Korea and the United States vowed to work to end Pyongyang's weapons programs at a landmark summit in June in Singapore, but have struggled to reach a pact to meet that goal.

'Outrageous arguments'

The Rodong Sinmun accused Washington of "acting opposite" to its plan to improve ties, despite goodwill gestures by Pyongyang, such as a moratorium on nuclear and missile tests, the dismantling of a nuclear site, and the return of the remains of U.S. soldiers killed in the Korean War.

"There have been outrageous arguments coming out of the U.S. State Department that it won't ease sanctions until a 
denuclearization is completed, and reinforcing sanctions is a way to raise its negotiating power," it said in an editorial.

"How could the sanctions, which were a stick the U.S. administration had brandished as part of its hostile policy against us, promote the two countries' amity?"

The editorial, which accompanied front-page articles and photographs of leader Kim Jong-un's visit to a catfish farm, was a fresh sign of Pyongyang's frustration over the slow-moving nuclear talks.

Under U.S. President Donald Trump, Washington pushed the United Nations to impose tough sanctions on North Korea as Kim conducted a string of missile and nuclear tests last year.

At a security forum on Saturday, the two sides sparred over the Singapore pact, with U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo calling for sanctions against Pyongyang to be maintained, and his North Korean counterpart, Ri Yong-ho, criticizing Washington for "retreating" from ending the war.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, left, greets North Korea's Foreign Minister Ri Yong-ho as they prepare for a group photo at the 25th ASEAN Regional Forum Retreat in Singapore on Saturday. (Joseph Nair/Associated Press)

Pompeo suggested the North's continued work on its weapons programs was inconsistent with Kim's commitment to denuclearize, but expressed optimism it would be achieved.

Returning to Washington, Pompeo played down the exchange with Ri, saying the tone was far different from last year.

"The minister made very clear of their continued commitment to denuclearize," Pompeo told reporters travelling with him.

"I probably don't have his words exactly right, but it's pretty close. Compare the anger, frankly, over years and years, and hatred, as spewed by the North Koreans. His comments were different."

'It takes 2 to tango'

North Korea's propaganda websites on Monday also urged the United States to drop sanctions and build trust.

One of them, Uriminzokkiri, lambasted the sanctions and pressure campaign as "anachronistic" and a hurdle to better relations, urging efforts to officially declare an end to the Korean War.

The Korean War ended in an armistice, not a peace treaty, leaving the U.S.-led United Nations forces, including South Korea, technically still at war with the North.

The State Department has said it is committed to building a peace mechanism to replace the armistice, but only after the North abandons its nuclear program.​

Maeri, another North Korean website, stressed the need for U.S. action to build confidence in response to the North's moves to end weapons programs and send back the remains.

"It takes two to tango," it said.

Kim Eui-kyeom, a spokesperson for South Korea's presidential Blue House, said on Monday the government was asking the North to hasten denuclearization and the United States to show sincerity over the North's demands for reciprocal steps.

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North Korea to close nuclear test sites in May, Seoul says

Seoul says North Korean leader Kim Jong-un plans to shut down the country’s nuclear test site in May and reveal the process to experts and journalists from the U.S. and South Korea.

Seoul’s presidential spokesperson Yoon Young-chan said Sunday Kim made the comments during his summit with South Korean President Moon Jae-in on Friday.

Kim also said U.S. President Donald Trump will learn he’s “not a person” to fire missiles toward the United States, Yoon said. The Kim-Trump meeting is anticipated in May or June.

Yoon says North Korea also plans to re-adjust its current time zone to match the South’s. The North in 2015 created its own “Pyongyang Time” by setting the clock 30 minutes behind the South.

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Koreas agree to hold landmark summit talks at border village in April, Seoul says

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un has agreed to hold a landmark summit meeting with South Korea’s president next month and impose a moratorium on nuclear and missile tests if his country holds talks with the United States, a senior South Korean official said Tuesday.

Chung Eui-yong, South Korea’s presidential national security director, said the two Koreas agreed to hold their third-ever summit at a tense border village in late April. He also said the leaders will establish a “hotline” communication channel to lower military tensions, and would speak together before the planned summit.

Chung led a 10-member South Korean delegation that met with Kim during a two-day visit to Pyongyang, North Korea’s capital. They returned on Tuesday.

The agreements follow a flurry of co-operative steps taken by the Koreas during last month’s Pyeongchang Olympics in South Korea. Tensions had run high during the previous year because of a barrage of North Korean weapons tests.

The two past summits, in 2000 and 2007, were held between Kim’s late father, Kim Jong-il, and two liberal South Korean presidents. They resulted in a series of co-operative projects between the Koreas that were scuttled during subsequent conservative administrations in South Korea.

Chung said North Korea agreed to suspend nuclear and missile tests for as long as it holds talks with the United States.

North Korea also made it clear that it would not need to keep its nuclear weapons if military threats against it are removed and it receives a credible security guarantee, Chung said.

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North, South Korea agree to hold talks Tuesday, Seoul says

The rival Koreas will sit down for their first formal talks in more than two years next week to find ways to co-operate on the Winter Olympics in the South and to improve their abysmal ties, Seoul officials said Friday. While a positive sign after last year’s threats of nuclear war, the Koreas have a long history of failing to move past their deep animosity.

The announcement came hours after the United States said it will delay annual military exercises with South Korea until after the Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea, next month. The exercises infuriate North Korea, which claims they are an invasion rehearsal, although South Korea and the United States have repeatedly said they are defensive in nature.

On Friday morning, North Korea sent a message saying it would accept South Korea’s offer to meet at the border village of Panmunjom next Tuesday to discuss Olympic co-operation and how to improve overall ties, according to South Korea’s Unification Ministry, which handles North Korean matters. Panmunjom is where a North Korean soldier dashed across the border into the South in November. He is recovering after being shot five times by his former comrades.

Unification Ministry spokesperson Baik Tae-hyun said he expects the two Koreas will use a recently restored cross-border communication channel to try to determine who will head their respective delegations next week.

Could be tactic to divide Seoul, Washington

Any dialogue between the Koreas is seen as a positive step. But critics say the North’s abrupt push to improve ties may be a tactic to divide Seoul and Washington and weaken international pressure and sanctions on Pyongyang.

In his New Year’s address Monday, North Korean leader Kim Jong-un said he was willing to send a delegation to the Winter Olympics but he also said he has a “nuclear button” on his desk to fire atomic weapons at the United States. U.S. President Donald Trump quickly responded that he had a bigger and more powerful “nuclear button” of his own.

South Korea Koreas Tensions

South Korean President Moon Jae-in speaks during a cabinet meeting at the presidential Blue House in Seoul. On Tuesday South Korea offered high-level talks with rival North Korea to find ways to co-operate on next month’s Winter Olympics. (Kim Ju-hyoung/Yonhap via Associated Press)

Past breakthroughs to ease Korean tensions have often ended with renewed animosities. It’s likely the North will refrain from provocations during the Games. But tensions could return afterward because the North has no intention of abandoning its weapons programs and the United States will not ease its pressure on the country, analysts say.

The Trump government on Thursday said its springtime military drills with South Korea will be held from March 8-18 following the Feb. 9-25 Olympic Games. Defence Secretary Jim Mattis insisted the delay was a practical necessity to accommodate the Olympics, not a political gesture.

South wants North at Olympics

The White House said Trump approved the postponement in consultation with South Korean President Moon Jae-in, who said he suggested the drills’ delay to the United States.

Moon, a liberal, has been pushing to improve strained ties and restore stalled co-operation projects with North Korea since his inauguration in May, though he joined U.S.-led international efforts to apply more pressure and sanctions on the North.

Moon’s government wants North Korea to take part in the Winter Olympics. But North Korea is not strong in winter sports and none of its athletes have been qualified to compete in the Games. It needs to acquire additional quotas by the International Olympic Committee to come to South Korea. Baik said North Korea is expected to hold talks with IOC officials next week.

The Trump administration has said all options are on the table to end the North Korean nuclear standoff, including military measures, but Moon has repeatedly said there cannot be another war on the Korean Peninsula. Critics say these differences may have led Kim to think he can drive a wedge between Seoul and Washington as a way to weaken international pressure on the country.

The United States stations about 30,000 troops in South Korea, a legacy of the 1950-53 Korean War that ended with an armistice, not a peace treaty. North Korea has cited the U.S. military presence and its regular drills with South Korea as proof of American hostility that compels it to pursue nuclear weapons.

Last year, North Korea carried out its sixth and most powerful nuclear test and test-launched three intercontinental ballistic missiles as part of its push to possess functioning nuclear missiles capable of striking the U.S. mainland. The repeated weapons tests earned the North toughened UN sanctions, and Kim and Trump exchanged threats of nuclear war and crude personal insults.

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In Seoul, Trump calls for North Korea to 'make a deal'

U.S. President Donald Trump, on his first day on the Korean peninsula, signalled a willingness to negotiate with North Korea to end its nuclear weapons program, urging Pyongyang to “come to the table” and “make a deal.”

In a notable shift from his aggressive rhetoric toward North Korea, Trump took a more optimistic tone Tuesday, suggesting that “ultimately, it’ll all work out.” And while he said the United States would use military force if needed, he expressed his strongest inclination yet to deal with rising tensions with Pyongyang through diplomacy.

“It makes sense for North Korea to come to the table and make a deal that is good for the people of North Korea and for the world,” Trump said during a news conference alongside South Korean president Moon Jae-in. “I do see certain movement.”

Trump said he’s seen “a lot of progress” in dealing with North Korea, though he stopped short of saying whether he wanted direct diplomatic talks.

Trump tones it down

Trump also underlined the United States’ military options, noting that three aircraft carrier groups and a nuclear submarine had been deployed to the region. But he said “we hope to God we never have to use” the military options.

During his first day in South Korea, Trump lowered the temperature on his previously incendiary language about North Korea. There were no threats of unleashing “fire and fury” on the North, as Trump previously warned, nor did the president revive his derisive nickname for North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un, “Little Rocket Man.”

Trump Asia Issues

A man watches a television screen showing U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un during a news program at the Seoul Train Station last summer. Trump says Kim is “threatening millions and millions of lives.” (Ahn Young-Joon/Associated Press)

But he did decree that the dictator is “threatening millions and millions of lives, so needlessly” and highlighted one of the central missions of his first lengthy Asia trip: to enlist many nations in the region, including China and Russia, to cut off Pyongyang’s economic lifeblood and pressure it into giving up its nuclear program.

Moon, who has been eager to solidify a friendship with Trump, said he hoped the president’s visit would be a moment of reflection in the stand-off with North Korea and said the two leaders had “agreed to resolve the North Korea nuclear issue in a peaceful manner” that would “bring permanent peace” to the peninsula.

“I know that you have put this issue at the top of your security agenda,” said Moon. “So I hope that your visit to Korea and to the Asia Pacific region will serve as an opportunity to relieve some of the anxiety that the Korean people have due to North Korea’s provocations and also serve as a turning point in resolving the North Korean nuclear issue.”

Protesters of all stripes

Hundreds of South Koreans took to the streets of Seoul for two separate demonstrations timed for Trump’s visit, one to show support and the other to voice disapproval of the U.S. leader amid concerns over North Korea’s nuclear threats.

Surrounded by thousands of police officers and a tight perimeter created by buses, hundreds of anti-Trump protesters rallied at a boulevard near the U.S. Embassy, holding banners that read “No Trump” and “No War.”

“We oppose the visit to South Korea by Trump, who has heightened the fears of war on the Korean Peninsula,” said one of the protesters, reading from a statement.

The group, which calls itself the “No Trump Coalition,” also plans to protest on Wednesday near Seoul’s parliament, where Trump is to make a speech calling on the international community to maximize pressure on North Korea.

Across the street, hundreds of Trump supporters waved the U.S. and South Korean flags and held signs that read “Blood Allies Korea + US.” They chanted “USA!” when Trump’s motorcade passed by the two protest groups for a meeting with Moon at the presidential Blue House.


Supporters of Trump take part in a rally in central Seoul on Tuesday. (Kim Kyung-Hoon/Reuters)

More than 15,000 officers will be deployed to provide security during Trump’s two-day visit and they will monitor the demonstrations, according to the National Police Agency.

Police had unsuccessfully attempted to block anti-Trump protesters from marching in streets near the presidential palace, with the Seoul Administrative Court ruling that such a ban would infringe on the protesters’ freedom of assembly. 

South Korea Asia Trump

Protesters struggle with police officers during a rally to oppose the visit by U.S. President Donald Trump in Seoul. (Han Jong-chan/Yonhap via AP)

Trump began the second stop on his Asia tour with a visit to Camp Humphreys, a joint U.S.-Korean military base, but even as he walked among the weapons of war, he struck a hopeful note, saying: “it always works out.”

Much like he did in his visit to Japan, Trump indicated he would place the interlocking issues of security and trade at the heart of his visit. He praised South Korea for significant purchases of American military equipment and urged the two nations to have a more equitable trade relationship. Moon said the two agreed on lifting the warhead payload limits on South Korean ballistic missiles and co-operating on strengthening South Korea’s defence capabilities through the acquisition or development of advanced weapons systems.

Trump also pushed his economic agenda, saying that the current U.S.-Korea trade agreement was “not successful and not very good for the United States.” But he said that he had a “terrific” meeting scheduled on trade, adding, “hopefully that’ll start working out and working out so that we create lots of jobs in the United States, which is one of the very important reasons I’m here.”

Burden-sharing is a theme Trump has stressed ever since his presidential campaign.

Trump has not ruled out a military strike and backed up his strong words about North Korea by sending a budget request to Capitol Hill on Monday for $ 4 billion to support “additional efforts to detect, defeat, and defend against any North Korean use of ballistic missiles against the United States, its deployed forces, allies, or partners.”

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At U.S. air base south of Seoul, training missions take on new urgency after Trump's UN threats

The hangar at the Kunsan U.S. Air Force Base south of Seoul is filled with the signs of a war that never ended: two F-16 fighter jets being prepared to defend South Korea. Or perhaps, to attack the North.

Bombs and missiles are on the floor, about to be mounted. And there’s an enormous U.S. flag, reflecting the huge American presence in the country: more than 28,000 troops.

Washington led the South through one inconclusive conflict during the Korean War in the 1950s, leaving a tense peace but no treaty. It’s now the dominant player in another uncertain standoff with the North.

The Kunsan base, which has existed since before the Second World War, has seen it all. Visiting one day earlier this month — watching jets roar off the runway one after another, circling and practising manoeuvres — it certainly feels like war could break out again.

Capt. Chris (Bruiser) Brown says he’s ready. He’s inspecting an F-16 next to one of the reinforced concrete hangars that dot the secure area of the base. Nearby, more are being built.


Captain Chris ‘Bruiser’ Brown in front of the F-16 fighter jet that he pilots. The U.S. has maintained a military presence in South Korea since the Korean War in the 1950s, helping to keep the peace on the Korean Peninsula. (Saša Petricic/CBC)

“If we’re tasked to go north and take offensive actions, then we’re prepared to do so,” he says.

If U.S. President Donald Trump gives the order to “totally destroy North Korea” — as he threatened in a speech to the United Nations last week— Brown will be among the pilots sent sent for the mission.

I ask him if he thinks a lot about going on the attack.

After a long pause, he says. “We obviously think about it. We’re constantly preparing for that to happen.”

Pace of training missions picks up

U.S. forces call that “taking the fight to the North,” and it’s a big part of daily training missions in South Korea. The pace has picked up.

American and South Korean troops practise flying together and hitting targets out at sea with cruise missiles.

They simulate a land invasion from the North across the Demilitarized Zone – or DMZ – and respond with machine-guns, tanks and artillery.

They fire rockets to test the country’s new anti-missile defence system, a series of mobile launchers developed by the U.S. and known as THAAD (Terminal High Altitude Area Defense). This is a key part of South Korea’s protection.

And regularly, the U.S. calls in bombers from its regional base in Guam to fly missions further north, as a message to Pyongyang — a show of force to remind North Korea of the kind of military power Washington has at its command if Pyongyang continues to threaten the U.S. with nuclear missiles.


A technician adjusts an F-16 fighter jet in the munitions hangar of Kunsan air base. Flight manoeuvres and simulations have ramped up in the wake of the Trump comments. (Saša Petricic/CBC)

The U.S. Air Force flew one of these missions last Saturday night. Eight aircraft, including B-1 Lancer bombers and F-15C fighter jets, traced their way along North Korea’s east coast. They flew over international waters, going farther north than at any time since the 1990s when Pyongyang’s nuclear program began.

The mission rattled North Korea. South Korean intelligence says Pyongyang has since reacted by repositioning aircraft and bolstering other defences along that coast, based on a report in South Korea’s Yonhap news agency.

There was also a warning from North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Yong-ho, who said as far as Pyongyang is concerned, the United States has declared war on North Korea through a tweet from Trump last Sunday that said the regime’s leaders “won’t be around much longer.”

As a result, the foreign minister said Pyongyang has “every right to make counter-measures, including the right to shoot down United States strategic bombers even when they are not yet inside the airspace border of our country.”

 ‘He could push us into war against our will’

The sharp exchanges, and especially the threats from Trump, have some in South Korea’s National Assembly worried.

“Trump’s comments are making the situation very unstable,” says Kim Jong Dae, a member of the assembly and its National Defence committee.

“Trump is impulsive and unpredictable,” he says, “and he could push us into war against our will. No matter how careful we are, we cannot stop him from doing something rash.”

That could be catastrophic for Seoul, a city of 10 million people right near the border, and near North Korea’s artillery. It’s considered a prime target for a retaliatory strike from North Korea if the U.S. launches military action against Pyongyang.


U.S. President Donald Trump, left, and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un are locked in a war of words that has U.S. and South Korean troops at Kunsan on high alert. (Getty Images)

There was a glimpse of the danger recently, as Seoul held its annual drill to test civil defences during a simulated attack.

Emergency workers in red plastic suits and oversized moon helmets carried “victims” out of Seoul’s subway. Others were laying on the ground pretending to suffocate.

But as the sirens wailed, many complained they didn’t know where to go for safety. Critics said even if civilians made it to shelters, there wouldn’t be nearly enough stockpiled food, water or medicine to sustain a long emergency.

Military expert Yang Uk, who’s with the Korea Defence and Security Forum, says tens of thousands of people could die daily in conflict — or while hiding from it — because officials and emergency services aren’t ready.

“They’re not preparing for the North Korean nuclear attack, not preparing for the North Korean long range artillery, so right now, we are kind of defenceless,” he says.

South Koreans are worried, too, much tenser than just a few months ago, when the mood toward North Korea was conciliatory.

Now, polls show rising support for building up this country’s arsenals, with 70 per cent backing the reintroduction of tactical nuclear arms here. American nuclear-tipped artillery and similar weapons were withdrawn from South Korea in 1991.

Of course, all of this requires continued help and protection from United States forces, working with South Korea’s own military. That explains why both seem to be on a war footing here.

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Seoul says North Korea earthquake was a nuclear test

South Korea’s military said Sunday that North Korea is believed to have conducted its sixth nuclear test after it detected a strong earthquake, hours after Pyongyang claimed that its leader has inspected a hydrogen bomb meant for a new intercontinental ballistic missile.

South Korea’s weather agency and the Joint Chief of Staff said an artificial 5.6 magnitude quake occurred at 12:29 p.m. local time, in Kilju, northern Hamgyong Province. The U.S. Geological Survey called the first quake an explosion with a magnitude 6.3.

Shortly after, Yonhap news agency said a second quake was detected with a magnitude 4.6 but South Korea’s weather agency denied another quake occurred. There was no word from the military in Seoul about the possible second quake.

North Korea conducted its fifth test last year in September. In confirmed, the latest test would mark yet another big step forward in North Korean attempts to obtain a nuclear-armed missile capable of reaching deep into the U.S. mainland.

The U.S. State Department had no immediate reaction. South Korea’s presidential office said it will hold a National Security Council meeting chaired by President Moon Jae-in.

North Korea conducted two nuclear tests last year and has since maintained a torrid pace in weapons tests, including flight-testing developmental intercontinental ballistic missiles and flying a powerful midrange missile over Japan.

Pyongyang claims ‘home-made’ H-bomb

Earlier Sunday, photos released by the North Korean government showed Kim talking with his lieutenants as he observed a silver, peanut-shaped device that was apparently the purported thermonuclear weapon destined for an ICBM. What appeared to be the nose cone of a missile could also be seen near the alleged bomb in one picture, which could not be independently verified and which was taken without outside journalists present. Another photo showed a diagram on the wall behind Kim of a bomb mounted inside a cone.

Aside from the factuality of the North’s claim, the language in its statement seems a strong signal that Pyongyang will soon conduct its sixth nuclear weapon test, which is crucial if North Korean scientists are to fulfill the national goal of an arsenal of viable nuclear ICBMs that can reach the U.S. mainland. There’s speculation that such a test could come on or around the Sept. 9 anniversary of North Korea’s national founding, something it did last year.

As part of the North’s weapons work, Kim was said by his propaganda mavens to have made a visit to the Nuclear Weapons Institute and inspected a “homemade” H-bomb with “super explosive power” that “is adjustable from tens (of) kiloton to hundreds (of) kiloton.”

North Korea Koreas Tensions

In this undated image distributed Sunday by the North Korean government, North Korean leader Kim Jong-un is seen at an undisclosed location. (KCNA/Korea News Service via AP)

North Korea in July conducted its first ever ICBM tests, part of a stunning jump in progress for the country’s nuclear and missile program since Kim rose to power following his father’s death in late 2011. The North followed its two tests of Hwasong-14 ICBMs, which, when perfected, could target large parts of the United States, by threatening to launch a salvo of its Hwasong-12 intermediate range missiles toward the U.S. Pacific island territory of Guam in August.

It flew a Hwasong-12 over northern Japan last week, the first such overflight by a missile capable of carrying nukes, in a launch Kim described as a “meaningful prelude” to containing Guam, the home of major U.S. military facilities, and more ballistic missile tests targeting the Pacific.

Vipin Narang, an MIT professor specializing in nuclear strategy, said it’s important to note that North Korea was only showing a mockup of a two-stage thermonuclear device, or H-bomb. “We won’t know what they have until they test it, and even then there may be a great deal of uncertainty depending on the yield and seismic signature and any isotopes we can detect after a test,” he said.

To back up its claims to nuclear mastery, such tests are vital. The first of its two atomic tests last year involved what Pyongyang claimed was a sophisticated hydrogen bomb; the second it said was its most powerful atomic detonation ever.

AP Explains North Korea Guam

A missile that analysts believe could be the North Korean Hwasong-12 is paraded across Kim Il-sung Square in Pyongyang in April. (Wong Maye-e/Associated Press)

It is almost impossible to independently confirm North Korean statements about its highly secret weapons program. South Korean government officials said the estimated explosive yield of last year’s first test was much smaller than what even a failed hydrogen bomb detonation would produce. There was speculation that North Korea might have detonated a boosted fission bomb, a weapon considered halfway between an atomic bomb and an H-bomb.

It is clear, however, that each new missile and nuclear test gives the North invaluable information that allows big jumps in capability. A key question is how far North Korea has gotten in efforts to consistently shrink down nuclear warheads so they can fit on long-range missiles.

“Though we cannot verify the claim, (North Korea) wants us to believe that it can launch a thermonuclear strike now, if it is attacked. Importantly, (North Korea) will also want to test this warhead, probably at a larger yield, to demonstrate this capability,” said Adam Mount, a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress.

‘Efforts to maximize pressure on North Korea’

North Korea is thought to have a growing arsenal of nuclear bombs and has spent decades trying to perfect a multistage, long-range missile to eventually carry smaller versions of those bombs.

South Korea’s main spy agency has previously asserted that it does not think Pyongyang currently has the ability to develop miniaturized nuclear weapons that can be mounted on long-range ballistic missiles. Some experts, however, think the North may have mastered this technology.

The White House said that President Donald Trump spoke with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe of Japan regarding “ongoing efforts to maximize pressure on North Korea.” The statement did not say whether the conversation came before or after the North’s latest claim.

Japan North Korea Tensions

Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe speaks to the reporters in Tokyo on Sunday. Abe had earlier spoken to U.S. President Donald Trump about North Korea. (Takaki Yajima/Kyodo News via AP)

A long line of U.S. presidents has failed to check North Korea’s persistent pursuit of missiles and nuclear weapons. Six-nation negotiations on dismantling North Korea’s nuclear program in exchange for aid fell apart in early 2009.

The North said in its statement Sunday that its H-bomb “is a multi-functional thermonuclear nuke with great destructive power which can be detonated even at high altitudes for super-powerful EMP (electromagnetic pulse) attack according to strategic goals.”

Kim, according to the statement carried by the state-run Korean Central News Agency, claimed that “all components of the H-bomb were homemade … thus enabling the country to produce powerful nuclear weapons as many as it wants.”

In what could be read as a veiled warning of more nuclear tests, Kim underlined the need for scientists to “dynamically conduct the campaign for successfully concluding the final-stage research and development for perfecting the state nuclear force” and “set forth tasks to be fulfilled in the research into nukes.”

The two Koreas have shared the world’s most heavily fortified border since their war in the early 1950s ended with an armistice, not a peace treaty. About 28,500 American troops are deployed in South Korea as deterrence against North Korea

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