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Pyongyang cancels contracts at its Kaesong Industrial Zone, as Seoul seeks the return of a detained worker. Scientists develop vaccine against H1N1, and are willing to distribute it for free. Foreign currency reserves rise. Executives ink $5 billion in energy and tech deals in Kazakhstan. Plus, a bike path in the DMZ, and a diet drink that breaks down fat.
Top News: North Korea declared all contracts of South Korean companies operating in the North’s Kaesong Industrial Park null and void, putting further pressure on the strained ties between the two Koreas.
The industrial zone, located roughly 70 kilometers from Seoul, was considered a symbol of peace and cooperation between the North and South. South Korean companies could benefit from cheap labor in the North, while the wages of North Korean workers are paid directly to the leadership.
Pyongyang said it would revise wages, rent and taxes at the complex and let South Korean factories leave if the changes are not suitable for operation. The move comes as Seoul seeks the release of a South Korean worker who was detained by the North almost two months ago for allegedly speaking against the leadership.
A group of Korean scientists have developed a vaccine against the H1N1 influenza virus, the first of its kind, and said the vaccine will be ready in the next four months.
The veterinary scientists from Chungnam National University said they created the vaccine after receiving samples of the H1N1 virus from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The vaccine has yet to be tested by the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, but the scientists say it can be mass-produced, and that they are willing to distribute it worldwide for free.
Two U.S. journalists, who have been detained by North Korea since mid-March, will be tried June 4, North Korea’s state-run media announced. The two reporters working for San Francisco-based Current TV were filming the plight of North Korean defectors from China when they were captured by border guards.
The North said the two journalists, Laura Ling and Euna Lee, were being charged with trespassing and conducting “hostile acts.”
Leaders of a civic group accused of illegally establishing contacts with North Korea were arrested after the National Intelligence Service and the police raided their offices.
The group, which was founded in 1995 with the goal of achieving peaceful unification with North Korea, said it had abided by the laws and denied it was receiving orders from the Stalinist state.
A $20 million aid package for development in Afghanistan won approval from cabinet members but does not include plans for troop re-deployment to the country.
Much of the money will be spent on creating hospitals and job training centers, and on increasing the number of South Korean aid workers in Afghanistan. In 2007 South Korea recalled its non-combatant troops deployed to the country.
Money: South Korea’s foreign currency reserves in April saw the highest monthly rise in three years, according to the Bank of Korea. The central bank said foreign reserves climbed to $212.5 billion in April, up 3 percent, with the help of a rise in sovereign bond sales and investment gains.
South Korea signed on to energy and technology deals worth $5 billion with Kazakhstan that would allow the country to boost its position in Central Asia.
The agreements will be implemented over the next three to five years and include a deal to build a power plant in the former Soviet Union country. The deals came during South Korean President Lee Myung-bak’s visit to Central Asian countries.
Elsewhere: A bike path running along the heavily fortified demilitarized zone (DMZ) between the South and North Korean border will be open to cyclists this fall, according to the Gyeonggi provincial office. The number of cyclists will be limited to 300 for three hours twice a month, but the provincial office said it is seeking to open additional tracks early next year.
Only residents and farmers in the area had access to the dirt path running five to 10 kilometers south of the DMZ. The Korean demilitarized zone, roughly four kilometers wide, cuts across the peninsula and is the world’s most heavily fortified border.
A diet drink that is said to help break down fat in the body surpassed the 100 million sales mark, becoming the first in the "health drink" industry to do so. The bottled drink, called “Fat Down,” was introduced to the market in 2002 and is said to suppress people’s appetites while reducing the amount of sugar that transforms into fat.
Industry officials said the trend reflects people’s greater interest in staying fit and looking good that started emerging since the new millennium.