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The not-so-friendly skies

Thailand authorities ground a plane carrying illegal weapons from North Korea bound for Pakistan. Pyongyang issues revalued currency to curb black market trading. North Korea appears ready to reengage in nuclear talks. South Korea's economy grows 3.2 percent. The government finalizes plans to send troops to Afghanistan. And babies in South Korea will live longer than ever.

Top News: A plane carrying a large load of weapons from North Korea was forced to land in Bangkok after the United States tipped off Thai authorities about the illicit transfer of weapons currently banned under U.N. sanctions. Thai authorities announced they will press charges against the five crewmembers — four from Kazakhstan and one from Belarus — for the illegal possession of weapons. So far, the crew has said they were unaware of the cargo they were transporting but have provided little additional detail. Most believe the weapons were destined for Pakistan.


North Korea has issued new currency to curb black market trading and suppress inflation in the country. The revalued money wipes two zeroes off the previous currency. By restricting the amount of old money people can change for new bills, Pyongyang is in effect punishing those who were using underground money. The South Korean media reported that brief chaos broke out in response to the currency swap, but the North has yet to make an official announcement on the issue. 


North Korea showed signs of willingness to return to the negotiating table for nuclear talks after U.S. special envoy Stephen Bosworth made a three-day trip to Pyongyang. Bosworth met with North Korea’s first vice minister who has close ties to the North Korean leader and Pyongyang’s chief nuclear negotiator. His visit to the hermit kingdom was widely viewed as an active approach by the Obama administration to engage with the North Korean leadership. Pyongyang stepped away from the negotiating table over a year ago, but announced through state-run media that the U.S. envoy’s visit helped narrow the differences and deepen mutual understanding between both sides. 


Money: South Korea’s economy grew 3.2 percent in the third quarter, beating previous outlooks and raising speculations that the government will raise rates early next year. The Bank of Korea estimated a seasonally adjusted 3.2 percent growth from July to September, up from a previous estimate of 2.9 percent, but emphasized that the economic outlook is still uncertain and the government would continue its stimulus program.


South Korea raised its growth forecast to 5 percent next year, up one percent from the previous target. The government, however, said it believes growth of the private sector will take time, and that it will continue its expansionary fiscal policy and focus on job creation. The government is anticipating the creation of 200,000 new jobs next year, according to the finance ministry.


Elsewhere: The government finalized plan to deploy troops to Afghanistan and said it will send 350 soldiers to guard civilian aid workers in the Parwan Province. According to the plan, the soldiers and civilians will begin work in the war-torn country in July 2010 until December 2012. The plan is pending approval by the National Assembly.


The life expectancy of South Korean babies exceeded 80 years for the first time, jumping more than five years in the past decade, according to a report released by the national statistical office. The agency cited medical advancements and increased public awareness of health issues as the reasons.