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Yonhap News Summary
The following is the first summary of major stories moved by Yonhap News Agency on Wednesday.

U.S. vows to closely monitor Laotian policy on NK defectors
WASHINGTON -- The U.S. government will keep close tabs on a Laotian policy on North Korean defectors, an incoming envoy said Tuesday, amid speculation that Laos is no longer a safe haven for North Koreans fleeing their hunger-stricken communist nation.

   Laos came under criticism from the international community for deporting nine North Korean orphans -- age 15 to 23 -- back to China in May. They were apparently repatriated later to North Korea.

U.S. car sales in S. Korea soar after FTA, official says
WASHINGTON -- U.S. Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker said Tuesday that U.S. automobile sales to South Korea have sharply grown since a bilateral free trade agreement (FTA) went into effect in March last year.

   She was stressing the effects of existing FTAs with South Korea and other nations as Washington seeks to expand similar bilateral or multilateral trade deals.

China's vice president to attend N. Korea's armistice day event
SEOUL -- China's Vice President Li Yuanchao will attend a ceremony in North Korea to mark the 60th anniversary of the signing of the Armistice Agreement that halted the 1950-53 Korean War, North Korean media said Wednesday.

   The report by the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) said that Li will lead a delegation of Chinese officials and that the visit has been arranged by the North's Presidium of the Supreme People's Assembly and the Cabinet.

Households consume less coffee amid economic slump
SEOUL -- South Koreans consumed less coffee in the first quarter of 2013 from a year earlier, data showed Wednesday, apparently as they refrained from making unnecessary purchases amid the protracted economic slowdown.

   The average spending of local households on coffee and tea came to 8,500 won (US$7.62) in the January-March period, falling 1.4 percent from a year earlier, the Korean Statistical Information Service data showed.

N. Korea steps up war anniversary prep amid food shortage
SEOUL -- North Korea is stepping up preparations for extravagant celebrations for a war anniversary despite a worsening food shortage and growing number of soldiers deserting their units, sources familiar with the matter said Wednesday.

   The North has been preparing a large military parade and various events across the nation to mark the 60th anniversary of the armistice that ended hostilities of the Korean War on July 27, 1953.

Seoul to develop knowledge-based industry, human resources
SEOUL -- South Korea will develop advanced, knowledge-based industry as part of efforts to boost its economic growth, the government said Wednesday.

   Under a set of new measures reported at a meeting of economic ministers on the day, the government will designate up to 300 knowledge-based businesses by 2017, which will entitle the companies to various incentives, including tax breaks, according to the Ministry of Trade, Industry and Energy.

S. Korean embassy worker robbed by armed men in Yemen
SEOUL -- A South Korean embassy employee in Yemen was attacked and robbed of his car by armed men in Yemen's capital Sanaa, the embassy said, cautioning residents and travelers there.

   The robbery took place at around 8:45 a.m. on Tuesday when the South Korean embassy staff was driving to work in Hadda area in downtown Sanaa.

Seoul sees population shrink amid fast-aging trend
SEOUL -- The number of citizens in the capital city of Seoul has decreased over the past two years with a marked increase in its elderly population, data showed Wednesday.

   According to the data compiled by the Seoul Metropolitan Government, the number of residents in Seoul came to 10.42 million as of June this year, down 0.15 percent from three months earlier.

Korean War veterans to visit S. Korea for armistice anniversary
SEOUL -- Veterans who fought in the Korean War under the United Nations flag will visit South Korea to attend events marking the 60th anniversary of the armistice and share their stories, the state veterans' service said Wednesday.

   The Ministry of Patriots and Veterans Affairs said it has invited about 220 veterans and their families from 21 nations in appreciation for their service and sacrifice during the war and to show them the nation's development.

S. Korea's Int'l air passenger traffic surges to new high in H1
SEOUL -- South Korea's international air passenger traffic rose to a new six-month high in the first half on growth in the number of passengers to and from China and Southeast Asian countries, the government said Wednesday.

   The number of international air passengers to and from South Korea reached 24.4 million in the first six months of this year, up 6.7 percent from the same period last year, according to the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport.

Foreign ownership of S. Korean bonds gains in July
SEOUL -- Foreign ownership of South Korean debts moved up on-month in July amid the economic slump as local bonds boast solid yields compared to global peers, data showed Wednesday.

   Overseas investors held a combined 102.1 trillion won (US$91.4 billion) worth of listed bonds as of Sunday, compared to 101.2 trillion won tallied at end-June, industry data showed.

Nearly all Korean firms pessimistic about economic recovery
SEOUL -- Nine out of 10 South Korean companies were downbeat about the country's economic recovery, a poll showed Wednesday, in the latest sign of a prolonged economic slump gripping Asia's fourth-largest economy.

   In the poll of 500 companies taken by the Korean Chamber of Commerce and Industry (KCCI), 87 percent said they were not feeling an economic recovery, citing poor sales and declining profits and orders.