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Obama Supports S. Korea's Plans to Take Ship Sinking to UNSC

WASHINGTON (Yonhap) -- U.S. President Barack Obama supports South Korea's plans to bring North Korea to the U.N. Security Council for the torpedoing of a South Korean warship that killed 46 sailors aboard, the White House said on May 24.

   In a statement, White House spokesman Robert Gibbs also said Obama has ordered the Defense Department and other government agencies to review their policies on North Korea, enhance defense readiness and deter further aggression from the North.

   South Korean President Lee Myung-bak said earlier in the day that his government will bring March's sinking of the 1,200-ton Cheonan near the sea border with North Korea to the U.N. Security Council, suspend inter-Korean economic ties and bolster national defense.

   "As President Lee stated in his address earlier today, the Republic of Korea intends to bring this issue to the United Nations Security Council," Gibbs said. "We support this move. Secretary Clinton and Ambassador Rice are each consulting very closely with their Korean counterparts, as well as with Japan, China, and other UN Security Council member states in order to reach agreement on the steps in the Council."


Japan Considering Its Own Sanctions against North Korea

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- Japan is considering making its own sanctions against North Korea over the deadly sinking of the South Korean warship Cheonan in late March, Japanese Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama said on May 24.

   In a telephone conversation with South Korean President Lee Myung-bak, Hatoyama said North Korea, which committed the incident, is an obvious threat not only to South Korea but also to Japan, said Lee's spokesman, Park Sun-kyu.

   Lee told Hatoyama that putting resolute measures into practice is important to correct North Korea's wrongdoings and asked for Japan's cooperation in future moves, including referring the incident to U.N. Security Council.

   Hatoyama replied Japan will continue to support the South Korean government's position and cooperate in the future.

   Following Lee's statement announced in the morning, the Japanese leader telephoned Lee at 5 p.m. and talked for about 15 minutes.

   Japan's Kyodo News also reported from Tokyo that Japan will consider possible additional sanctions it could unilaterally impose on North Korea after an international investigation concluded last week that a torpedo fired by a North Korean submarine in the Yellow Sea on March 26 caused the sinking, which left 46 sailors dead.

   Kyodo also reported that Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirofumi Hirano told reporters after a high-level national security meeting on Monday that Japan will collaborate with South Korea and the United States, and that if the South Korean government refers the incident to the U.N. Security Council for punitive measures against North Korea, Tokyo will fully back the move.


Russia Promises 'Close Consultation' with S. Korea in Punishing N. Korea

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- Russian President Dmitry Medvedev promised on May 24 "close consultations" with South Korea in its punitive steps against North Korea for its attack on a South Korean warship in March, officials in Seoul said.

   In his 20-minute telephone conversation with President Lee Myung-bak, Medvedev said Russia will "try to send a right signal to North Korea while securing the peace and security of the Korean Peninsula," according to Lee's spokeswoman, Kim Eun-hye.

   Earlier South Korea announced a set of tough countermeasures against the North after concluding that its 1,200-ton naval ship, the Cheonan, was torpedoed by a North Korean submarine off the west coast on March 26, killing 46 crew members.

   South Korea said earlier this week it will cut all trade and other exchanges with the North except for the joint industrial complex in Kaesong and bring the case to the U.N. Security Council.

   The Russian leader told Lee that he "well understands" South Korea's response. Russia, a veto-wielding permanent member of the council and the North's traditional socialist ally, is crucial in Seoul's diplomatic efforts related to the Cheonan incident.

   "(We) are ready to closely consult with the South Korean side," Medvedev was quoted as saying.

   The spokeswoman, however, did not elaborate on how Medvedev assessed the results of the South Korea-led probe into the cause of the ship sinking. North Korea flatly denies responsibility.

   The South Korean president reiterated his resolve to deal sternly with North Korea so that the North will "go on a right path."

   "North Korea's anachronistic armed provocation should not be tolerated in the international community," Lee said.


Clinton Urges Int'l Community to Respond to N. Korea's Sinking of S. Korean Ship

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said on May 26 that the international community should not turn a blind eye to North Korea's deadly sinking of a South Korean warship, in an apparent attempt to pressure China to end its protection of the provocative neighbor.

   China has been a stumbling block to South Korea's plan to punish North Korea at the U.N. Security Council for mounting an unprovoked torpedo attack on the warship Cheonan on March 26. Despite the seriousness of the sinking, which killed 46 sailors, Beijing apparently fears that pushing Pyongyang too hard could lead to its collapse and hurt Chinese interests.

   Chinese backing is crucial for any Council action, as it is a veto-wielding Council member.

   "The international independent investigation was objective, the evidence overwhelming, the conclusion inescapable," Clinton told a joint news conference with South Korean Foreign Minister Yu Myung-hwan, referring to a five-nation joint investigation into the sinking.

   "This was an unacceptable provocation by North Korea and the international community has a responsibility and a duty to respond," she said.

   Clinton flew from Beijing where she struggled, apparently unsuccessfully, to convince Chinese leaders to forge a united, tough response to Pyongyang's provocation. She said Beijing understands "the seriousness of this issue" and she hopes it will "really understand the details of what happened and the objectivity of the investigation that led to the conclusion."

   China, the North's last-remaining major economic and diplomatic supporter, has been reluctant to use its leverage over Pyongyang for fear that North Korea's collapse would cause instability on its border and ultimately the emergence of a pro-U.S. nation next door, analysts say.

   Minister Yu also took a swipe at China and Russia for their vague attitudes.

   "Objective data has to speak, and no political judgment should play a role in that kind of data. Factual data is the basis for us to take this issue to the U.N. Security Council," Yu told the conference. "China and Russia, of course, will take time, I'm sure, but they will not be able to deny the facts."

   Washington has expressed full support for South Korea's handling of the crisis, with U.S. President Barack Obama directing his military commanders to coordinate closely with the South to ensure readiness and to deter future aggression.

   The two allies have also agreed to conduct anti-submarine naval drills in waters off the divided peninsula, a move that would put pressure on North Korea as the impoverished nation has to get its forces on alert in response and spend its scarce resources.

   Clinton told the conference that Washington is reviewing "additional options and authorities to hold North Korea and its leaders accountable," but she did not elaborate on what those options are.

   "We call on North Korea to halt its provocations and its policy of threats and belligerence toward its neighbors and take steps now to fulfill its denuclearization commitments and comply with the international law," she said.

   The U.S. is considering its own sanctions that would affect the North's "finances and money flow," a South Korean official said on condition of anonymity, citing the issue's sensitivity. The official said that Japan is also mulling its own sanctions on the North.

   Similar U.S. financial restrictions, which had been enforced in 2005, proved painful to Pyongyang, though they were lifted later amid progress in international talks on ending North Korea's nuclear programs.

   The official also said that the U.S., South Korea and Japan plan to keep talking with China.

   Clinton's trip to Seoul, though a half-day long, is symbolic of the U.S. security commitment to South Korea as the Asian ally grapples with rising tensions over the Cheonan's sinking. Her four-hour stopover in Seoul also included talks with President Lee Myung-bak.


North Korea's Trade Sinks over 10 Percent in 2009

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- North Korea's trade volume shrank more than 10 percent in 2009 from a year earlier due to U.N. sanctions, with the country posting a trade deficit for the 20th consecutive year, a local trade agency said on May 24.

   North Korea's exports and imports, excluding those with South Korea, dropped 10.5 percent on-year to US$3.41 billion last year, according to the state-run Korea Trade-Investment Promotion Agency (KOTRA).

   Pyongyang's trade deficit stood at $1.29 billion in 2009, compared with a $1.56 billion shortfall the previous year, it said, adding that trade between the two Koreas also decreased 7.8 percent last year to $1.68 billion.

   China was North Korea's largest trading partner with bilateral trade coming to $2.68 billion last year, or 78.5 percent of the total, followed by Germany with $69 million, Russia with $61 million and India with $60 million, the KOTRA said.
The finding was based on the analysis of annual trade reports filed by countries dealing with North Korea. Pyongyang does not file any reports that might reveal the conditions of its reclusive nation.

   "North Korea's trade volume is expected to further shrink this year due to continued U.N. sanctions and the possibility of additional sanctions by the U.N.," an official from the KOTRA said, asking not to be identified.

   The U.N. sanctions, which prohibit any significant transactions with the communist nation of materials, were imposed last year by the U.N. Security Council shortly after the North conducted its second atomic detonation test.

   South Korean President Lee Myung-bak said earlier in the day that his country will refer the communist North to the U.N. Security Council for its role in the March 26 sinking of a South Korean warship, which killed 46 young South Korean sailors.
President Lee said most of inter-Korean trade will be halted, saying cooperation with the communist nation is "meaningless" when the North attacks the country's naval ship and takes dozens of innocent lives.


North Korea's Population Exceeds 23 Million: Census

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- North Korea's population totaled 23.34 million in 2008, with nearly 9 percent of its people over age 65, a South Korean state think tank said on May 26, citing the results of the communist country's latest census.

   The Korea Rural Economic Institute (KREI) in Seoul said the 2008 North Korean census showed the population growing an average of 0.85 percent annually from 1993 through 2008, with 4.4 million people engaged in agriculture, forestry and fisheries activities.

   The institute said more than half of the population, or 12.2 million, worked directly for the government, state-operated corporations and agricultural cooperatives. The total number of people working in the public sector accounted for 70 percent of the 17.4 million people over age 16.

   The census showed about 3 million people were classified as retired, with 1 million engaged in homemaking activities.

   Of all people over the working age of 16, 79.5 percent of men were engaged in economic activities, with the percentage reaching 62.2 percent for women.

   KREI said that 8.7 percent of North Korea's population, or 2.09 million people, were classified as senior citizens over 65 in 2008, up from just 1.14 million in 1993.

   The numbers are not as high as in Japan, where 20 percent of the population is over 65, but it surpasses figures for China and India where 8 percent and 5 percent of the population are over 65, respectively.

   The institute said the rise in the ratio of elderly people is due to a drop off in the number of young people.

   An average North Korea woman gave birth to 2.0 children in 2008 down from 2.1 in 1993, while mortality rate for infants and mothers dying while giving birth all rose.

   The infant mortality rate reached 1.9 percent in 2008 from 1.4 percent 15 years earlier, while the maternal mortality rate hit 7.7 percent for every 100,000 mothers giving birth, up from 5.4 percent in 1993.

   The census, meanwhile, showed there were 460,000 households in North Korea, each containing an average of 3.9 people. About 73 percent of the population lived in two-room homes, with urban households using coal as the primary source of energy for cooking and heating. In rural areas, wood was the main energy source.