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Hwang Woo-suk was a national hero before his research was discredited. Pyongyang signals its willingness to negotiate with the Obama administration, but the U.S. favors six-party talks. Third quarter economic growth and consumer confidence beat expectations. The government will invest over $400 million in ubiquitous wireless Internet.
Top news: Hwang Woo-suk, the disgraced stem cell scientist who was once hailed as a national hero, was convicted for falsifying his research and embezzling government research funds. The court, however, handed down a suspended two-year prison sentence saying that Hwang has shown remorse and that the scientist did leave significant research achievements.
The veterinarian became a sensation in 2004 after his research team published a paper in the journal Science claiming to have succeeded in cloning a human embryo and extracting stem cells from them. Stem cells are the master cells that later turn into tissue, organs and blood. Hwang’s research raised hopes for producing replacement tissue for organs or to treat diseases, but his reputation was tarnished after other scientists argued there were traces of fabrication in Hwang’s studies.
North Korea called for direct talks with the United States through a statement issued by the foreign ministry carried through its state-run news agency. The announcement is widely seen as one of the strongest signs that Pyongyang is ready to resume multilateral nuclear talks that it boycotted almost a year ago. The North said it is now time for the U.S. to make a decision, and that it will go its own way if Washington is not willing to sit down at the negotiating table.
The statement came after North Korea’s deputy negotiator to the six-party talks Ri Gun and the U.S. special envoy to disarmament talks held a rare meeting in New York. Details of the meeting are unknown but Ri said the two sides discussed issues of “mutual interest.”
Pyongyang claims bilateral talks with Washington are the best way to resolve hostilities that it says have forced it to build up its nuclear arsenal, but the U.S. has said there will be no nuclear negotiations outside of the six-party framework.
South Korea sent fiber-optic cables to the North to help the impoverished country upgrade its military hotlines, another gesture seen as a sign of improving relations between the two countries. The communication equipment was sent after Seoul offered for the first time since the conservative Lee Myung-bak administration took office to send food aid to the North. South Korea offered to send 10,000 tons of corn, but the North has yet to respond to this offer.
South Korea confirmed it will send a group of civilian, police and military forces to help the global effort in stabilizing the war-torn Afghanistan. The police and military troops will assist in protecting the civilian experts who will be actively involved in rebuilding projects. The foreign ministry did not announce the specific number of people who will join the effort, but a military official did explain that it could take up to four to six months until adequate preparations are made.
Money: South Korea’s economy grew by 2.9 percent in the third quarter marking the highest since 2002. According to data released by the Bank of Korea, most of the growth came from the inventories account which fell less than it had in the second quarter.
The growth, which surpassed the expected 2.2 percent, is likely to prompt investors to speculate the data will pressure the central bank to raise interests rates in the near future. However, most analysts believe the Bank of Korea will hold its interest rate, which is at a record low 2 percent, until early next year.
The consumer confidence level also hit an all-time high as employment and other production indicators improve. The index hit the 117 mark in October up from 114 in the previous month. A number over 100 indicates more people have a positive outlook on their domestic economy and living standards.
According to the survey conducted by the central bank, a majority of consumers believed that their income and employment conditions would improve in the future.
Elsewhere: The government announced it will invest $413 million in technology to create cities across the country that have ubiquitous wireless internet access. The Ministry of Land, Transport, and Maritime Affairs, which will oversee the project, said Korea appears to be the first country in the world to have a comprehensive plan to develop wireless cities on a national scale.