South Korean police yesterday blocked activists from sending anti-Pyongyang leaflets across the border with North Korea, which had threatened to respond with a “merciless” military strike.
The decision to shut down the propaganda exercise was an unusual one and reflected, analysts said, Seoul’s desire to avoid any destabilizing clash ahead of South Korea’s presidential election in December.
North Korean defectors who had planned to launch balloons carrying 200,000 propaganda leaflets across the heavily militarized border were infuriated by the move, accusing South Korean President Lee Myung-bak of capitulating to threats.
There were some minor scuffles as the activists sought to push through a large roadblock of police vehicles and security personnel set up about 4km south of the launch site.
“This event has been authorized by the government. This is ridiculous,” said Park Sang-hak, one of the organizers.
“We are not here to provoke a conflict, but to convey the truth to North Koreans. President Lee will be remembered as a cowardly leader who succumbed to North Korean threats,” Park said.
Local police officials said the decision had been dictated by “security concerns” after the North Korean army threatened a “merciless military strike” if the event went ahead and told local residents to evacuate.
“The surrounding area will become targets of direct firing,” the Korean People’s Army said in a statement on Friday.
North Korea has threatened strikes in the past, but Friday’s statement was unusually strong, with its specific naming of the time and location, coupled with the evacuation warning.
It was also the first time such a precise threat had been made under North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, who took over the reins of the state after the death in December last year of his father, former North Korean leader Kim Jong-il.
Troops in the South had been placed on high alert and Yonhap news agency reported the deployment of additional artillery and tank units to forward border positions.
It was not the first time the South has moved to prevent propaganda exercises, but yesterday’s action was unusually forceful in stopping the activists going anywhere near the border area.
Lee has taken a hard line with North Korea during his five years in office, and the decision to ban yesterday’s event took some by surprise.
“Stability is the No. 1 priority for Seoul right now,” said University of North Korean Studies professor Yang Moo-jin said, citing the proximity of December’s presidential poll as a likely factor.
“I think the president felt that if he let tensions further escalate, he would see his political legacy tarnished at the end of his term and be blamed for leaving a diplomatic burden on the incoming administration,” Yang said.
Henry Tong (湯偉雄) and Elaine To (杜依蘭) were preparing to spend their first wedding anniversary in separate prison cells until their acquittal for rioting during Hong Kong’s pro-democracy protests. There were gasps and tears of relief in court on Friday last week as a judge declared prosecutors had failed to prove that the couple took part in clashes with police in July last year. The pair walked free in a ruling that has potential consequences for hundreds of other protesters facing similar charges. However, they have a long journey ahead as they try to rebuild their lives and business. “We have already been punished,”
WARNINGS OVER COMPLACENCY: The curves of new infections in numerous countries is climbing, while others see the the first new infections in months Spikes in COVID-19 infections in Asia have dispelled any notion that the region might be over the worst, with Australia and India yesterday reporting record daily infections, Vietnam fretting over a new surge and North Korea urging vigilance. Asian nations had largely prided themselves on rapidly containing initial outbreaks after the coronavirus emerged in central China late last year, but flare-ups this month have shown the danger of complacency. “We’ve got to be careful not to slip into some idea that there’s some golden immunity that Australia has in relation to this virus,” Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison told reporters. Australia recorded its
The Australian government yesterday said that it plans to give Google and Facebook three months to negotiate with media businesses fair pay for news content. In releasing a draft of a mandatory code of conduct, Canberra aims to succeed where other nations have failed in making tech firms pay for news siphoned from commercial media companies. Australian Treasurer Josh Frydenberg said that Google and Facebook would be the first platforms targeted by the proposed legislation, but others could follow. “It’s about a fair go for Australian news media businesses, it’s about ensuring that we have increased competition, increased consumer protection and a sustainable
BEIJING REACTS: China announced that Hong Kong’s extradition treaties with Canada, Australia and Britain would be suspended after those nations acted earlier New Zealand yesterday announced that it would suspend its extradition treaty with Hong Kong. The move came after China passed sweeping new security legislation for the territory. New Zealand is the final member of the “Five Eyes” intelligence-sharing alliance to take such action after the Australia, Britain, Canada and the US previously announced similar measures. New Zealand Minister of Foreign Affairs Winston Peters said that the new legislation goes against commitments China made to the international community. “New Zealand can no longer trust that Hong Kong’s criminal justice system is sufficiently independent from China,” Peters said. Moreover, Wellington would treat military and technology exports to