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How North Korea hype helped South Korea’s pro-peace Moon

South Korea's new president, Moon Jae-in, cannot rely on his resounding election victory for long. Analyst Sven Schwersensky tells DW that Moon has to deliver on difficult issues, both domestically and regionally. DW: It wasn't a surprise that Moon Jae-in of the Democratic Party won the South Korean presidential election, but the margin with which he defeated other candidates was quite big. Did you expect the outcome? Sven Schwersensky: The final result was pretty much what the polls had predicted, but what came as a surprise was that the second in race from former President Park Geun-hye's party, Hong Joon Pyo, lost by a significant margin. This was not expected by many in South Korea. One noticeable thing in the election was that about 30 percent of voters cast a blank ballot. This, in my opinion, was a protest by a large number of conservative voters who showed their mistrust to all presidential candidates. It also shows that Moon now has a very important task to perform, most importantly to work for social cohesion to overcome deep divisions and polarization in the country. This is going to be a huge but essential task. An important step in this regard will be constitutional reforms, which Moon said he would strive for and make a preliminary decision on it next year. South Korea is facing a number of crises. The unemployment is growing, the income gap is expanding, corruption is on the rise, and then there is a worsening conflict with North Korea. How can Moon deal with so many issues? Unlike his predecessors, Moon was sworn in immediately after the polls. He has already taken some steps to address the issues. He has ordered the setting up of a job creation committee. Moon promised during his election campaign that he would create 170,000 new jobs in the public sector alone and a total of more than 800,000 jobs over the five years of his presidential term. How difficult will it be for the new president to regain public confidence in the government? Moon needs to establish a different form of political communication, both with parliament and the people. After his victory, he held meetings with the leaders of all political parties represented in parliament and offered them his cooperation. These were short meetings but they show that the new president wants to work together with everyone. Moon says he wants to start a dialogue with North Korea, building on the approach of his mentor and former President Roh. He also said he was willing to visit Pyongyang under favorable conditions. How do you expect Moon to deal with the crisis unfolding on the Korean Peninsula? With the appointments of the secretary of the union and the prime minister, Moon has signaled that he wants to proceed very quickly on his election promises regarding North Korea. At the same time, however, Moon has made it clear that he is aware of the fact that the stringent international sanctions imposed on Pyongyang are necessary. I think the new South Korean president would like to resume talks on the reopening of Kaesong and, perhaps he will initiate other joint economic projects with the North. It will be beneficial for South Korea's economy. To what extent has the conflict with North Korea affected the election result? It is always the case that the conservative camp plays up the fear of a possible North Korean attack and the liberal bloc advocates peace and tries to convince the people that the conflict with Pyongyang cannot be resolved through military means. This time too, the same question dominated the election campaign. Moon, however, has apparently benefited from the North Korea issue, because the conservatives, as well as the United States, overstated the topic. In his election campaign, Moon hinted that he wanted South Korea to rely less on the United States. What will it mean for the US-South Korea relations and, significantly for the future of the US' deployment of the THAAD missile defense system? I think Moon would want a more self-assertive role for South Korea in its dealing with the US. The missile defense system was an important topic in the last phase of the election campaign when US President Donald Trump and his security adviser pointed that Seoul must fund THAAD completely or at least jointly, like other security measures. The Moon administration will also focus on improving ties with China. Nevertheless, whether it will get South Korea any concessions on the missile defense system is unclear. Sven Schwersensky is the country representative for the Friedrich Ebert Foundation in Seoul. The interview was conducted by Esther Felden.

South Korea’s new president, Moon Jae-in, cannot rely on his resounding election victory for long. Analyst Sven Schwersensky tells DW that Moon has to deliver on difficult issues, both domestically and regionally. DW: It wasn’t a surprise that Moon Jae-in of the Democratic Party won the South Korean presidential election, but the margin with which he defeated other candidates was ... Read More »

Head of retail powerhouse Lotte indicted in South Korea corruption scandal

The chairman of retail giant Lotte has been charged over the graft scandal that brought down the country's leader. Ousted President Park Geun-hye has also been formally indicted. Shin Dong-bin, the head of South Korea's retail powerhouse Lotte, was charged with bribery on Monday after he allegedly offered 7 billion won (5.79 million euros, $6.15 million) to a sports foundation linked to a close aide of former President Park Geun-hye. Sixty-two-year-old Shin was indicted in Seoul without being detained by prosecutors. Scandal widens The retail giant denied allegations that it made improper deals with Park, or those linked to her, for favors. Lotte, which owns hotels, stores and food products, becomes the second conglomerate mired in the political scandal after Jay Y. Lee, the chief of Samsung Group, was arrested in February. Former President Park was also charged on Monday with taking bribes worth about 29.8 billion won from Samsung in exchange for supporting Lee's succession, according to a statement from prosecutors. "We have formally charged Park ... with multiple offences including abuse of power, coercion, bribery and leaking state secrets." they said. Park still in jail Park has been behind bars at a detention center in the outskirts of Seoul since her arrest last month. She was impeached by parliament in December after months of public protests. The decision was upheld by the country's Supreme Court last month. The sixty-five-year-old has been accused of colluding with her confidante Choi Soon-sil to receive bribes from Lotte and Samsung. Choi, who is currently on trial over the scandal, now faces an additional charge of bribery involving Shin. She allegedly used her links to the president to force local firms to "donate" nearly 66 million euros to organizations, and allegedly used the cash for personal gain.

The chairman of retail giant Lotte has been charged over the graft scandal that brought down the country’s leader. Ousted President Park Geun-hye has also been formally indicted. Shin Dong-bin, the head of South Korea’s retail powerhouse Lotte, was charged with bribery on Monday after he allegedly offered 7 billion won (5.79 million euros, $6.15 million) to a sports foundation ... Read More »

South Korea raises sunken Sewol disaster ferry

Salvage operators have lifted the Sewol ferry, three years after it tragically sunk off South Korea's southwestern coast with the loss of over 300 lives. Raising the vessel had been a key demand of the victims' families. Some 450 salvage workers in South Korea on Thursday completed one of the largest and most complex ship raising operations ever attempted, lifting the sunken 6,825-tonne Sewol vessel up from 40 meters below the waves off the country's southwestern coast. Two enormous barges were positioned either side of the ferry, while 66 cables connected to a frame of metal beams were attached underneath the vessel as part of an operation that spanned months. Throughout Thursday morning, the Sewol ferry began to slowly emerge from the waters until, at 7am local time (2200 Wednesday UTC), workers were able to climb on it to further fasten it to the barges. The operation brought a sense of closure to the families of 304 victims who died when the vessel sank on April 16, 2014 - one of the country's worst-ever maritime disasters that proved to be altogether avoidable. Almost all the victims on the Sewol were school children. The bodies of 295 were recovered but nine still remain missing. Relatives of those missing hope the remains will be recovered inside the vessel. For that reason, raising the ferry had been key a demand of the affected families. Several gathered on Thursday morning to watch the rusted structure be lifted up. "To see the Sewol again, I can't describe how I'm feeling right now," said Huh Hong-Hwan, whose 16-year-old daughter was killed in the accident, although her body is one of the few that has not yet been found. Lee Geum-hee, the mother of another missing student, told a television crew: "We just want one thing - for the ship to be pulled up so that we can take our children home." Once the vessel has been fully lifted, it will be mounted onto a semi-submersible ship and carried to the port of Mokpo. Lee Cheoljo, an official from South Korea's Ministry of Oceans and Fisheries, estimated that the entire process would 12 to 13 days. A country traumatized The Sewol disaster deeply traumatized South Korea and badly damaged the credibility of the recently-ousted president, Park Geun-hye. During the first crucial hours of the accident, Park reportedly stayed in her residence and out of reach, while officials frantically sent updates and sought guidance. She has never explained what she did in the seven hours in which she failed to respond, sparking rumors of a tryst and that she was undergoing cosmetic surgery. As a result, a permanent protest site was set up around the center of Seoul with effigies of Park's head hanging alongside photographs of the victims. Park was formally removed from office by South Korea's Constitutional Court this month. She is currently under criminal investigation over allegations of extortion and favoritism. Man-made catastrophe Subsequent investigations showed that the incident was namely man-made and completely avoidable. Illegal redesign, an overloaded cargo bay, inexperienced crew and a questionable relationship between the ship operators and state regulators all contributed to the ship's sinking. Investigations also found that, while the ship took some three hours to sink, no evacuation signal was heard and crew members were among the first to leave the ship. The Sewol ferry's captain, Lee Jun-Seok, was sentenced to life in prison for committing homicide through "willful negligence" while 14 other crew members were handed sentences raising from two to 12 years.

Salvage operators have lifted the Sewol ferry, three years after it tragically sunk off South Korea’s southwestern coast with the loss of over 300 lives. Raising the vessel had been a key demand of the victims’ families. Some 450 salvage workers in South Korea on Thursday completed one of the largest and most complex ship raising operations ever attempted, lifting ... Read More »

South Korea grills top executives over links to disgraced president

A senior executive at Samsung has denied receiving favors for donations to scandal-linked foundations. More than 50 corporate groups donated to foundations belonging to the president's longtime confidant. South Korean lawmakers on Tuesday questioned the heads of the country's top conglomerates, including Samsung, Hyundai Motor and six other companies, about their involvement in a political scandal rocking the presidency. Samsung Electronics Vice Chairman Lee Jae-yong said that while President Park Geun-hye had asked him to support cultural and sports-related developments during a one-on-one meeting, there had been no request for financial aid. "There are many things that I feel embarrassed about and I regret as we have disappointed the public with many disgraceful things," Lee said. "There are often requests from various parts of society, including for culture and sports. We have never contributed seeking quid pro quo. His case was the same," he added. Looming impeachment Park's presidency has been disgraced by a influence-peddling scandal involving her longtime confidant Choi Soon-sil, who prosecutors charged in November with influencing state affairs and directing funds to two non-profit foundations she used for personal gain At least 53 corporate groups donated to the foundations, with Samsung being the largest donor, providing 20.4 billion won ($17.46 million, 16.24 million euros) to the two foundations. The hearing marked a rare moment for the country's most powerful business leaders, who rarely participate in such public events. Meanwhile, Park is expected to face an impeachment vote on Friday after several weeks of mass protests in the capital. If she steps down, she will be the first South Korea president to do so since the country's democratic reforms in the 1980s. Since the scandal erupted in October, Park has witnessed her approval ratings slide to an all-time low of four percent.

A senior executive at Samsung has denied receiving favors for donations to scandal-linked foundations. More than 50 corporate groups donated to foundations belonging to the president’s longtime confidant. South Korean lawmakers on Tuesday questioned the heads of the country’s top conglomerates, including Samsung, Hyundai Motor and six other companies, about their involvement in a political scandal rocking the presidency. Samsung ... Read More »

South Korea prosecutors raid Samsung offices in Park political scandal probe

South Korean prosecutors have raided Samsung Electronics offices as a part of a probe in the scandal involving President Park Geun-hye. There are allegations the company may have given millions to the president's friend. Prosecutors raided Samsung offices on Tuesday as a part of a probe in an ongoing scandal involving South Korean president Park Geun-hye. Prosecutors are looking into an allegation that Samsung might have given 2.8 million euros ($3.1 million) to Park's friend, Choi Soon-Sil, in order to finance Choi's daughter's equestrian training. Choi's daughter was previously a member of the South Korean national equestrian team and trained in Germany. A spokesman for the prosecutor's office said, "we're searching Samsung Electronics offices," without adding any further details. Samsung Electronics and Samsung Group made no comment. Choi is alleged to have used her closeness to Park in order to gain significant influence over the South Korean government, despite not having any official governmental role. Park has publicly apologized twice for the scandal. Her approval rating stands at just 5 percent, according to a Gallup poll released Friday. It is the lowest mark since polling began in 1988. Prime Minister to be proposed by parliament Park agreed to withdraw her prime minister nominee in the face of opposition in parliament on Tuesday. Park nominated a liberal candidate outside of her conservative Saenuri Party, but the opposition said they would reject her choice because they felt they were not consulted properly. It is the only cabinet position that requires parliamentary approval. Park said she would confirm a different candidate brought forth by opposition MPs. "If the National Assembly recommends a new premier, I will appoint him and let him control the cabinet," Park said. Tens of thousands rallied in Seoul on Saturday, demanding Park be removed from office.

South Korean prosecutors have raided Samsung Electronics offices as a part of a probe in the scandal involving President Park Geun-hye. There are allegations the company may have given millions to the president’s friend. Prosecutors raided Samsung offices on Tuesday as a part of a probe in an ongoing scandal involving South Korean president Park Geun-hye. Prosecutors are looking into ... Read More »

Thousands calls for South Korean president to resign

Tens of thousands of protestors have descended on South Korea's capital demanding the president's resignation. The embattled South Korean leader is fending off accusations of links to a shadowy corrupt operative. One of the largest anti-government protests in years began in earnest on Saturday as South Koreans poured into the streets of downtown Seoul using words including "treason" and "criminal" to demand that President Park Geun-hye step down amid an explosive political scandal. At the core of the brouhaha is a close personal friend of the president, Choi Soon-sil, who has been arrested for fraud and also stands accused of meddling in state affairs - including official appointments and policy decisions - despite holding no official position in government. That's sparked a crisis shattering public trust in Park's judgment and leadership, and her approval rating has plunged to just 5 percent - a record low for a sitting president in South Korea. For her part, the president made an emotional televised address to the nation Friday in which she tried to court sympathy. She spoke of her loneliness and "heartache" at the explosion of public anger in recent weeks. If the numbers of people in the streets are any indicator, she miscalculated the public mood. "Her speech made me even more angry," 44-year-old Park Mee-Hee, who was marching with her teenage daughter, told the AFP news agency. "She kept making ridiculous excuses as if she was totally innocent. She should step down right now." Authorities said more than 40,000 people turned out for Saturday's candlelight rally - more than double the size of a similar anti-Park protest the week before. Police used dozens of buses and trucks to create tight perimeters in streets around the square in front of the palace gate to close off paths to the presidential office and residence. Thousands of officers dressed in fluorescent yellow jackets and full riot gear stood in front of and between the vehicles as they closely monitored the protesters. Choi was formally arrested on Thursday on charges of embezzlement and abuse of power, but public anger has largely focused on the allegations that she interfered in government affairs. The South Korean media has portrayed the 60-year-old Choi, whose late father was a shadowy religious leader and an important mentor to Park, as a Rasputin-like figure who wielded an unhealthy influence over the president. "What is really irritating is the fact that Choi was acting like a regent for Park, controlling her decision-making," 20-year-old political science student Kim Do-Hyun told the AFP news agency. The Seoul Central District Court said in a statement on Sunday that it granted warrants to prosecutors to arrest two former advisers to the president. An Chong-bum, a former senior advisor for Park, faces charges of abuse of power and attempted extortion. An was already in custody under an emergency detention order. A warrant was issued for the arrest of a second former aide, Jeong Ho-seong, who has also been held in temporary custody. Park has reshuffled ministers and senior advisers, bringing in figures from outside her ruling conservative Saenuri Party. In her televised address, she agreed to be questioned by prosecutors investigating the charges against Choi, and sought to portray herself as an over-trusting friend who had let her guard down at a moment of weakness. "I trusted my personal relationship, but was careless and not tough enough with my acquaintances," she said. The criminal investigation is focused on allegations that Choi leveraged her close relationship with the president to coerce local firms into donating large sums to dubious non-profit foundations that she then used for personal gain. Despite the mass protests and public apologies, Park is seen as unlikely to resign with just over a year of her single term in office left to run. But South Korea's main opposition party has threatened to agitate for her ouster unless she devolves more of her extensive executive powers, but it is wary of forcing an early presidential election it would not be confident of winning. If she does resign, South Korean laws require the country to hold a new election within 60 days.

Tens of thousands of protestors have descended on South Korea’s capital demanding the president’s resignation. The embattled South Korean leader is fending off accusations of links to a shadowy corrupt operative. One of the largest anti-government protests in years began in earnest on Saturday as South Koreans poured into the streets of downtown Seoul using words including “treason” and “criminal” ... Read More »

South Koreans go to polls in parliamentary election

South Koreans head to polls in parliamentary elections. President Park Geun-hye's conservative party is largely expected to land a decisive win. If the ruling Saenuri Party manages to regain its majority in the election, it could clinch the presidency in 2017 when Park's single term expires. Political power in South Korea is firmly focused on the presidency, with elections to the single-chamber national assembly being traditionally dominated by local issues. This election, however, seems to be different. National security issues are high on the agenda following North Korea's recent nuclear test and long-range rocket launch. Hostility between the rival Korean nations in election years has helped the conservatives in the past, highlighting their hard-line approach against the North. A Gallup survey conducted in South Korea showed that Park's supporters rated her diplomatic policies and stern measures against the North positively. Liberal candidates have traditionally backed rapprochement policies with North Korea. Officials from the main opposition Minjoo Party said they were concerned that Park's Saenuri could achieve close to a two-thirds supermajority of the 300 seats in the new National Assembly. Since losing its second presidential election in 2012, the Minjoo Party has struggled with infighting and defections, its seats declining to 102 in the current assembly. Economic downturn South Korea's economy has also been features as a main issue in the run-up to the elections. Official figures show that household debt is at new highs. The unemployment rate for people under 30 is approaching levels not seen since the country's financial crisis in the late 1990s. Rising unemployment rates, plunging exports and worryingly high levels of domestic debt have led to some criticisms of Park's handling of the economy, but these anxieties appear to have succumbed to security concerns. The Minjoo Party opposition has sought to frame the vote as a referendum on Park's economic policies. A strong Saenuri showing would give Park more leverage in pushing bills through the assembly. The president has so far fallen short on most of her key economic promises, a failure she puts down to legislative inaction. Critics have accused her of an authoritarian style of leadership resulting in skewed priorities and poor decision-making.

South Koreans head to polls in parliamentary elections. President Park Geun-hye’s conservative party is largely expected to land a decisive win. If the ruling Saenuri Party manages to regain its majority in the election, it could clinch the presidency in 2017 when Park’s single term expires. Political power in South Korea is firmly focused on the presidency, with elections to ... Read More »

South Korea police clash with 70,000 protesters at anti-government Seoul rally

Some 70,000 people have taken to the streets of Seoul for the largest South Korean anti-government rally in years. The protesters spoke out against conservative labor reform and state-issued history books. The security forces fired tear gas and water cannons, while protesters smashed police-vehicle windows and hit officers on top of buses with poles during Saturday's rally. Authorities mobilized 20,000 riot police for fear of violence at the march against the conservative president, Park Geun-hye, and her government. Demonstrators, many of them masked, chanted "Park Geun-hye, step down" and "No to layoffs" as they occupied a major downtown street. At least 12 people were arrested for violent behavior, according to a police official in the South Korean capital. KCTU stops police The rally united the supporters of various labor, agricultural and civil organizations protesting the government's drive to change labor laws, open protected markets for some agricultural goods and impose state-issued school textbooks in 2017. The proposed labor laws would allow companies to keep wages low and fire workers and activists, according to the militant Korean Confederation of Trade Unions (KCTU). Earlier on Saturday, KCTU activists scuffled with scores of plainclothes policemen who tried to arrest the confederation's president, Han Sang-goon, during a news conference. "If lawmakers try to pass the (government's) bill that will make labor conditions worse, we will respond with a general strike, and that will probably be in early December," said Han, minutes before fleeing, while his colleagues prevented the police from getting to him. Seoul authorities had issued an arrest warrant for Han after he failed to appear in court in connection with his role in organizing a May protest that turned violent. Fear of distorting history The government's bid to issue history textbooks for middle and high schools also sparked strong criticism in the Asian nation. South Korea was ruled by Park Geun-hye's father, military dictator Park Chung-hee, in the 1960s and 1970s. Although the books have not yet been written, activists fear that the Park administration would attempt to whitewash the transgressions of her father's rule. Saturday's demonstration was the biggest since 2008, when about 100,000 people marched in Seoul against resuming the import of beef from the US, while the public was still worried over mad cow disease.

Some 70,000 people have taken to the streets of Seoul for the largest South Korean anti-government rally in years. The protesters spoke out against conservative labor reform and state-issued history books. The security forces fired tear gas and water cannons, while protesters smashed police-vehicle windows and hit officers on top of buses with poles during Saturday’s rally. Authorities mobilized 20,000 ... Read More »

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