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Punishing the president for NK

Local elections punish the president’s party, apparently for NK policy. The north boosts Kim Jong-un’s power with songs, poems and a vote. A satellite launch explodes, dashing national ambitions. And the soccer team pleases spectators, even in defeat.


Top News: The country’s governing party experienced a setback in local elections which most believe was a sign of disapproval on how the government dealt with the sinking of a ship allegedly caused by North Korea.

Before the election, surveys indicated that the governing Grand National Party (GNP) would win at least nine out of 16 key national posts, but the party won a mere six, setting back the president’s efforts to rally public support to take strong measures against the North.

Local elections are widely viewed as a mid-term assessment of the president. Polls indicated that the majority of South Koreans approved of President Lee Myung-bak, leading most to believe that the governing party would win the elections. However, analysts believe that the public feared Lee’s stance against the North was too confrontational and felt the need to ease tensions between the two Koreas.

North Korea announced it will convene an extraordinary meeting in September for the ruling party to vote on key leadership posts, a move that is widely seen as a step towards further consolidating power for current leader Kim Jong Il’s son who is believed to be the next heir to the hermit kingdom.

Pyongyang made the announcement through its state-run Korea Central News Agency (KCNA) saying that the ruling Workers’ Party would meet in “early September to elect its highest leading body.”

The North has begun the process of distributing songs and poems praising the third and youngest son, Kim Jong-un, according to news reports in the South. Analysts in the South believe that the September meeting will be used as an opportunity to position key officials close to the younger heir in order to secure a successful power transition.

Meanwhile, North Korea said it is willing to hold military talks with Seoul concerning the March 2010 sinking of the Cheonan warship, under the condition that a U.N. commission overseeing the armistice between the two countries is not involved. South Korea accused the North of torpedoing the Cheonan, leading to the death of 46 South Korean sailors, a claim Pyongyang has strongly denied.

Tension between the two countries have risen, with the South saying it will continue to push the U.N. Security Council to adopt a resolution against the North for violating the armistice signed between the two countries in 1953. Pyongyang has lashed out threatening the take military measure which would not rule out the possibility using nuclear weapons if the international body does not make an impartial assessment of the incident.

South Korea failed to put a satellite in space using its first Korea-made rocket after an explosion that occurred minutes after liftoff. The Naro-1 was launched a day later than scheduled, but it exploded less than three minutes after the launch, falling into the sea in pieces.

It was the country’s second attempt to put a satellite in space using its own rocket which the government spent more than $402.6 million to develop. The rocket, designed in Korea with the aid of Russia, failed an earlier attempt to launch in August last year.

People who had gathered at an adjacent beach to watch the nationally-broadcast launch expressed their dismay with the failed attempt, which would have made South Korea the tenth country to fire up its own satellite using domestic technology.

Money: The government will start winding up its emergency economic policies used to fight the global economic crisis but will continue to bolster efforts to support the underprivileged.

The finance minister said he expects the country’s economy to grow by 5.8 percent this year, bolstered by strong exports and healthy capital investment. The country achieved 8.1 percent growth in the first quarter compared to a year ago, and the finance ministry predicted a 6.3 percent year-on-year growth for the second quarter.

The minister also added that the country will decide whether to implement an “exit strategy” depending on the performance in the second quarter.

South Korea is expected to see strongest ever exports this year due to the fast economic recovery in emerging markets and growth in competitive export sectors, according to the head of the Korea International Trade Association (KITA). The association forecasted that the country’s exports will hit the $445 billion mark, while putting imports at $424.7 billion.

Elsewhere: South Koreans gathered across the country in public squares, parks, restaurants and bars in the thousands to cheer on their national team that for the first time since 2002 had advanced to the Round of 16 in the South Africa World Cup.

The team lost 2-1 to Uruguay, but the public expressed satisfaction, saying that the players had fought well and the future for Korean football was optimistic.

South Korea for the first time advanced to the Round of 16 in the World Cup hosted in another country. The only other time it made such an achievement was during the 2002 World Cup co-hosted by South Korea and Japan.