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USFK offers 1.7 pct pay hike for Korean employees

By Kim Eun-jung SEOUL, April 11 (Yonhap) -- The U.S. Forces Korea said Friday it will offer a 1.7 percent pay raise for its Korean employees starting May, after their union threatened to launch a strike over their long-frozen wages later this month when U.S. President Barack Obama is set to visit. The USFK commander, Gen. Curtis Scaparrotti, said in a letter that the U.S. Pacific Command on Wednesday approved a 1.7 percent pay raise for about 12,000 Korean employees, which is the maximum allowed for this year by U.S. law.

S. Korea, Israel to jointly develop UAVs in wake of N. Korean spy drones

SEJONG, April 11 (Yonhap) -- South Korea and Israel will launch a joint program to develop new unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) this year, South Korea's commerce minister said Friday, in an announcement that came just hours after Seoul said North Korea was behind the spy drones discovered near the tensely guarded border. "South Korea and Israel have long cooperated in joint research and development projects," Yoon Sang-jick, minister of trade, industry and energy, said while meeting with reporters here.

S. Korea, U.S. carry out live-fire exercise

POCHEON, South Korea, April 11 (Yonhap) -- South Korea and the United States on Friday carried out a live-fire exercise near the border with North Korea as part of their annual joint drill aimed at enhancing military readiness, the Eighth U.S. Army said. About 350 Korean and American soldiers participated in the drill held at Rodriguez Firing Range in Pocheon, north of Seoul, featuring a wide array of Army aviation, artillery, armor and infantry assets.

No breakthroughs on trade deal for Australia PM in China

SHANGHAI (Reuters) - Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott said on Friday that he hoped a free trade agreement with China would be signed before November, offering little progress on a deal at the center of his visit to his country's largest trade partner. Abbott, whose week-long trip to North Asia includes stops in Japan and South Korea, has put trade atop his agenda. In Japan on Monday, he clinched a basic trade deal to cut import tariffs during a visit with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

China premier: Free trade talks with S. Korea at 'critical' stage

BEIJING, April 11 (Yonhap) -- Negotiations between South Korea and China aimed at forging a bilateral free trade pact have entered a "critical" stage, Chinese Premier Li Keqiang said, calling for the two nations to speed up the process of talks to reach a "high-level" agreement. Li made the remarks during a meeting with South Korean Prime Minister Chung Hong-won on Thursday evening on the sidelines of a regional economic forum on China's southern island of Hainan, according to a statement released by China's foreign ministry on Friday.

China premier: Free trade talks with S. Korea at 'critical' stage

BEIJING, April 11 (Yonhap) -- Negotiations between South Korea and China aimed at forging a bilateral free trade pact have entered a "critical" stage, Chinese Premier Li Keqiang said, calling for the two nations to speed up the process of talks to reach a "high-level" agreement. Li made the remarks during a meeting with South Korean Prime Minister Chung Hong-won on Thursday evening on the sidelines of a regional economic forum on China's southern island of Hainan, according to a statement released by China's foreign ministry on Friday.

S.Korea, US launch largest-ever air drill

South Korea and the United States kicked off their largest-ever joint air drill on Friday at a time of elevated military tensions with North Korea. The so-called "Max Thunder" exercise, which is held twice a year, will last until April 25 and involve 103 aircraft and 1,400 service personnel, a South Korean air force spokesman said. "In numerical terms, it's the largest exercise of its kind that we've done," the spokesman told AFP. The last Max Thunder drill held in October-November last year involved 97 aircraft and some 1,000 troops.

Chinese envoy says U.S. is giving 'mission impossible' on N. Korea

By Lee Chi-dong WASHINGTON, April 10 (Yonhap) -- The top Chinese envoy here accused the U.S. Thursday of blackmailing Beijing with regard to the North Korea issue. "We are very often told that China has such an influence over DPRK and we should force the DPRK to do this or that, otherwise the U.S. would have to do something that will hurt China's security interests," Cui Tiankai, Chinese ambassador to Washington, said at a conference on bilateral cooperation hosted by the U.S. Institute of Peace. The U.S. is giving China a "mission impossible," he stressed.

Defense chiefs of S. Korea, U.S. have phone conversation on N. Korea

By Kim Eun-jung SEOUL, April 10 (Yonhap) -- The defense chiefs of South Korea and the United States discussed security issues in Northeast Asia and agreed to work together to counter threats posed by North Korea, their offices said Thursday. U.S. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel called his South Korean counterpart Kim Kwan-jin at about 5:30 p.m. to discuss security issues raised during his 10-day Asia trip. He made the phone call aboard a flight heading from Mongolia to China prior to boarding a flight home.

N. Korea puts stability above change: Seoul

SEOUL, April 10 (Yonhap) -- The outcome of North Korea's latest parliamentary meeting indicates that the communist country has chosen stability over change, a Seoul government official said Thursday. In the first session of the newly formed Supreme People's Assembly on Wednesday, the communist country "re-elected" its young leader Kim Jong-un as head of the country's most powerful body, the National Defense Commission, and rubber-stamped a reshuffle of top positions, which did not involve a sweeping reshuffle.
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