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Nuclear tit-for-tat

North-South relations worsen via diplomatic fallout from this month’s missile launch. Despite rising unemployment, the Bank of Korea keeps interest rates stable, signaling that the worst is past. SUV maker Ssangyong motors’ shares rally on massive job cut. An Internet sage who predicted Lehman’s fall is acquitted.

Top News: South Korean officials have crossed over into North Korea to hold talks at the Kaesong Industrial Complex on what most believe is the fate of a South Korean worker detained by the reclusive state. North Korea detained a worker at the industrial complex more than 20 days ago for allegedly criticizing the North’s leadership.

 

The talks also come at a time when Seoul is actively seeking to become a full-fledged member of the U.S.-led Proliferation Security Initiative (PSI), which would assist the country in intercepting the transfer of weapons of mass destruction (WMD). Experts believe the North is trying to pressure South Korea to back out of its plans to join the security initiative. Seoul has in fact delayed the announcement of joining the PSI, saying it is seeking a more appropriate time frame.

 

Following international condemnation of North Korea’s missile launch earlier in April, Pyongyang retaliated by kicking out U.N. nuclear inspectors and vowing to pull out of the six-party talks aimed at denuclearizing the Korean Peninsula. An angry North Korea announced through state-run media that it will “never participate in the talks any longer, nor will it be bound to any agreements of the six-party talks,” after the U.N. released a declaration condemning Pyongyang’s launching of a rocket April 5.

 

The following day Pyongyang demanded nuclear inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) remove the seals and surveillance equipment from its Yongbyon nuclear facility and leave the country. The pull-out of the nuclear talks and expulsion of inspectors did not come as a surprise, as the North had repeatedly warned it would take such actions if the U.N. condemned what it calls the development of a peaceful space program.

 

Money: Former President Roh Moo-hyun admitted to have being involved in a massive political bribery scheme involving lawmakers, presidential aides and his family members. The ongoing investigation of a businessman who was a close supporter of the ex-president has led to the questioning of Roh’s son, his wife and a presidential aide, and is expected to lead to the questioning of the former president himself. Prosecutors have not announced when they will call in Roh for questioning, but the local media has flooded the small village where he lives in hopes of catching a glimpse of Roh and his wife. 

 

The Bank of Korea held its main interest rate at a record-low 2 percent for the second consecutive month in the midst of careful speculation that the Korean economy may have seen the worst pass earlier in the year. Governor of the BOK, Lee Seongtae, told the media he believes fluctuation in the exchange rate and stock markets has mostly stabilized, and he expects the country to see the effects of the supplementary budget aiming to stimulate the economy.

 

Joblessness in the country hit nearly 1 million in March. This 4 percent rate is the highest in three years. Unemployment is relatively low compared to other countries but is increasing each month, with more people now relying on government support while they seek new jobs.

 

South Korea’s ailing automaker Ssangyong Motor says it will cut at least a third of its workforce as a survival measure to emerge from one of its worst financial upheavals. More than 2,600 workers will be affected by the company’s survival plan, and union members have vowed to go on strike if the automaker pushes on with its mass layoff. The sport utility vehicle (SUV) manufacturer is under court receivership and had filed for bankruptcy protection in February after seeing an 82 percent loss in sales the previous month compared to a year ago.

 

Elsewhere: A South Korean blogger, who had been worshipped for predicting some of the major economic changes in 2008, was acquitted of charges that he had spread false information with harmful intent. The 31-year-old widely referred to as “Minerva,” his pen name, caused a sensation last year by predicting the collapse of the investment bank Lehman Brothers and the tumbling of the won.

 

Minerva was perceived as an underground economic prophet until he was captured and charged with spreading incorrect information with the intent of harming public interest. The prosecutors’ office said it would immediately file an appeal, while the released blogger said he plans to continue writing on various topics.

http://www.globalpost.com/passport/south-korea/090421/48-421-nuclear-tit-tat