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Sailors mourned after one-month search

The cause of the Cheonan’s sinking remains a mystery. Pyongyang seizes Seoul’s mountain resort facilities. The reclusive Kim Jong-il reportedly visits China in search of money. Hyundai reports a record profit. And a South Korean becomes the first woman to climb the world’s 14 tallest peaks.

 Top News: For five days South Korea mourned the death of more than 40 sailors killed in the sinking of a navy ship off the west coast after more than a month of rescue operations. Politicians and South Koreans all across the country lined up at makeshift alters set up around train stations and other public areas to pay their respects to the deceased sailors.

The media and analysts continue to speculate on what caused the 1,200-ton naval corvette, Cheonan, to spilt in half and sink near the western sea border adjacent to North Korea, most suggesting Pyongyang’s involvement. North Korea has so far denied playing any part in the sinking of the ship.

Investigators tentatively concluded that an external blast caused the sinking, while the South Korean Defense Minister Kim Tae-young said that a torpedo attack was most likely the cause. Kim was the first South Korean official to identify a torpedo attack as the likely cause of the sinking, but he did not speculate on where the torpedo may have originated.

Pyongyang seized five South Korean owned facilities at a mountain resort in what appears to be in retaliation against remarks from the South against the North Korean leadership, as tensions heighten on the peninsula due to the sinking of the naval ship Cheonan. It also proceeded to expel South Korean employees working at the tourist site.

The North confiscated a culture center, spa and other facilities saying that the move was to make up for the losses it has seen since the South barred tours to the scenic mountain resort in 2008. South Korea suspended trips to the North, after a South Korean tourist was shot by North Korean soldiers. Seoul announced at the time that it would call off tours, which were once considered a lucrative source of foreign currency for the North, until Pyongyang agreed to a joint investigation into the case.

North Korea’s leader Kim Jong-il is said to have made a secretive trip to China, the first in four years, in an effort to win economic aid from its long-standing ally China, according to South Korea media reports. 

North Korea experts believe that the move could be a signal to the international community indicating that Pyongyang is willing to return to the negotiating table at the six-party talks aimed at dismantling the country’s nuclear program.

Former Prime Minister Han Myeong-sook was acquitted of bribery, after the courts ruled that prosecutors did not have conclusive evidence. Prosecutors indicted Han last year on the grounds of receiving $50,000 from a businessman in 2006 in return for a job. The former prime minister was a key aide to late President Roh Moo-hyun and considered a symbol of integrity during that time.

Money: International credit ratings agency Moody’s Investors Service raised South Korea’s sovereign credit ratings to A1 from A2 for what it called “an exceptional level of economic resilience to the global crisis.”

The agency is the first one to upgrade Korea’s sovereign credit rating to the level it was at before the country was hit by the Asian Economic Crisis in 1997.

South Korea’s largest automaker Hyundai Motor reported a record $1 billion earnings in the first quarter of the year, a fivefold increase in profits compared to a year ago.

The carmaker’s sales jumped by 40 percent in that same period to 8.42 trillion won, recording a 37 percent increase to 842,037 cars. 

South Korea’s central bank raised its target for economic growth in 2010 to 5.2 percent from 4.6 percent citing a surge of demand from overseas markets and stronger domestic demand.

The Bank of Korea’s growth forecast is the fastest in four years, after the country saw a 5.2 percent growth in 2006.

The central bank expects exports to grow by 11.9 percent this year, a jump from the previous forecast of 9.3 percent. The bank also indicated that the private sector would play a much larger role this year as the effects of the state stimulus package implemented last year begin to diminish.

Elsewhere: South Korean mountain climber Oh Eun-sun became the world’s first woman to scale the 14 tallest peaks in the world.

South Korean media broadcasted the hike live across the country and flashed breaking news reports after the 44-year-old planted the Korean flag at the top of Nepal’s Annapurna, the 10th highest peak in the world.

The country’s president Lee Myung-bak sent a congratulatory message to Oh saying that she has demonstrated to the public what challenge means. 

http://www.globalpost.com/passport/south-korea/100503/sailors-mourned-after-one-month-search