South Korea is voting to elect a new National Assembly with the governing Saenuri party eager to strengthen its position in parliament.
The vote is seen as especially important for President Park Geun-hye, whose time in office has been hampered by legislative gridlock.
Saenuri party hopes to win the three-fifths of seats needed before bills can be introduced and passed by parliament.
It currently holds only a slim majority in the chamber.
Voters are casting ballots at nearly 14,000 polling stations to elect 253 of 300 lawmakers. The remaining 47 proportional representation seats are allocated to parties according to the numbers of votes they receive overall.
Park Geun-hye’s administration will gain significant momentum if the governing party gains a majority of seats, The Korea Times reported, enabling it to push through labor and economic reforms before her term in office expires in about 20 months’ time.
South Korea’s youth unemployment rose to 12.5% in February, much higher than the country’s average rate of nearly 5%. At the same time all the main parties have promised measures to reduce poverty among the elderly.
There is speculation in the South Korean media that the polls could end the country’s two-party system, as new parties challenge Saenuri and the main opposition Minju party, which in February set what appeared to be a new world record for a combined filibuster after speaking for 192 hours.
The turnout is estimated to be higher than in previous general elections, local pollsters told The Korea Times.
North Korea announces it has carried out a live-fire artillery drill simulating an attack on the official residence of South Korean President Park Geun-hye, known as the Blue House.
The exercise was overseen by Kim Jong-un, said the KCNA state news agency, who called on the military to be ready to “ruthlessly” destroy the government in South Korea.
It is the latest in a series of angry gestures by Pyongyang.
South Korean President Park Geun-hye has ordered the army to be on alert.
However, Park Geun-hye said on March 24 that “reckless provocations will only become a path to self-destruction for the North Korean regime”.
North Korea has been reacting after the UN imposed some of its toughest sanctions following its nuclear and long-range rocket tests.
Pyongyang has also been angered, as it is annually, by joint US-South Korean military exercises taking place south of the border.
Already known for vitriolic language, the KCNA report threatened to turn South Korea’s presidential residence into a “sea of flames and ashes”.
“Artillery shells flew like lightning and intensely and fiercely struck targets simulating Cheong Wa Dae and rebel governing bodies in Seoul,” it said of the latest drill, using the Korean name for the Blue House.
It was not clear when the drill was carried out, but the report warned of a “miserable end” for President Park Geun-hye.
The Blue House (Cheongwadae) was attacked by North Korean commandos in 1968.
The attempt to assassinate then-President Park Chung-hee was unsuccessful, but seven South Koreans and most of the 31 North Koreans attackers were killed.
South Korea has fired warning shots at a suspected North Korean drone flown across the DMZ.
Soldiers fired about 20 rounds before the craft turned back, Yonhap news agency said citing South Korean officials.
Earlier, South Korea’s President Park Geun-hye urged China to impose the strongest possible sanctions against North Korea, following its apparent nuclear test.
North Korea claims it has tested a hydrogen bomb.
That claim is doubted by experts, who say the blast, though probably nuclear, was not big enough to have been a thermonuclear explosion.
In her annual press conference, President Park Geun-hye said the international community’s response to North Korea “must differ from the past”, without giving details.
Park Geun-hye said new sanctions on Pyongyang must go further than before, with China’s support crucial. She also warned of possible further action by North Korea, including “cyber terrorism”.
China, North Korea’s closest ally, has repeatedly condemned North Korea’s nuclear tests but is often accused of doing little to try and stop them.
Park Geun-hye stressed China’s past statements but added: “I am certain that China is very well aware if such a strong will isn’t followed by necessary steps, we will not be able to stop the North’s fifth and sixth nuclear tests and we cannot guarantee true peace and stability on the Korean peninsula.”
“I believe the Chinese government will not allow the situation on the Korean peninsula to deteriorate further.”
Last week Secretary of State John Kerry also urged China to take a tougher line, telling his Chinese counterpart the relationship with North Korea cannot be “business as usual”.
President Park Geun-hye also spoke about the steps South Korea was taking with the US to “neutralize North Korea’s provocative actions” including additional deployments of American military assets on the Korean peninsula.
Answering a question about whether Seoul would consider ending its involvement in the jointly-run Kaesong industrial zone, just north of the border, Park Geun-hye said its future depended on Pyongyang’s actions.
Seoul has already limited access to Kaesong from South Korea, to only those directly involved in its operations.
South Korean President Park Geun-hye has promised to raise the Sewol ferry, as the Asian country marks a year since the disaster.
A total of 304 people, mostly school students, were killed when the Sewol ferry – which was overloaded and illegally redesigned – sank off Jindo island.
The disaster triggered nationwide grief and outrage and led to severe criticism of safety standards and rescue efforts.
Divers have recovered all but nine of the bodies. Relatives say the ship must be raised and their remains found.
The government says salvaging the ship will cost $110 million and has previously refused to commit to doing so.
However, President Park Guen-hye, speaking at a port in Jindo, said she would take “the necessary steps to salvage the ship at the earliest possible date”.
South Korea’s legislative National Assembly adopted a resolution calling on the government to ensure the Sewol ferry’s speedy recovery, which it said “is the path toward healing the minds of the victims, survivors and bereaved families… as well as those of all the citizens”, reported Yonhap.
Memorial ceremonies are being held in some 300 places across South Korea.
The largest took place in the afternoon at a hall in Ansan city, the home of the students. A private ceremony will also take place at their school in the evening.
In the morning, PM Lee Wan-koo was prevented from entering the memorial hall by angry relatives of those who died.
Investigators say the Sewol ferry sank after an inexperienced crew member made too fast a turn. The combination of an illegal redesign and overloaded cargo meant the ship was unstable.
However, some relatives say they want an independent and more thorough inquiry into the disaster, which sparked countrywide debate about regulatory failings and official incompetence.
Most of the crew of the Sewol survived.
The captain and three senior crew members have since been given long jail terms for failing to adequately protect passengers, while 11 other crew members were also imprisoned.
The captain of the first coast guard vessel on scene was also jailed for negligence relating to the botched rescue effort.
Separate trials were held for employees of the ferry operator, Chonghaejin Marine Co. The company’s billionaire owner, Yoo Byung-eun, disappeared after the disaster and was eventually found dead.
South Korean President Park Geun-hye has announced she is prepared to hold talks with North Korea’s leader Kim Jong-un without setting pre-conditions.
In a nationally televised press conference, Park Geun-hye said she would “meet with anyone if necessary to open the path of a peaceful unification”.
Kim Jong-un offered talks with South Korea if the conditions were right in his New Year address.
Leaders of South Korea and North Korea have only met twice, in 2000 and 2007, since the Korean War which divided the peninsula.
Kim Jong-un had said on January 1 that “depending on the mood and circumstances”, there would be “no reason” not to hold a high-level summit on the reunification of the two Koreas.
On January 12, Park Geun-hye delivered her own New Year message saying she would set no conditions to the talks, but added that North Korea should take “sincere” steps towards denuclearization.
North Korea has conducted three nuclear tests in recent years, aggravating relations with the South.
It has offered to put a moratorium on testing nuclear weapons if South Korea halts military exercises it holds with American forces. That offer was rejected and the two allies plan to hold a joint naval drill this week, reported South Korean news agency Yonhap.
Park Geun-hye also called on North Korea to “come forward for dialogue without hesitation” on efforts to reunite families separated since the end of 1950-53 Korean War.
The last formal high-level talks were in February 2014, leading to rare reunions for Korean families separated for over 60 years.
However, further talks planned in October were dropped after North Korea accused South Korea of not doing enough to stop activists sending anti-Northern leaflets across the border on balloons.
The two Koreas have technically been at war since the Korean War ended in an armistice rather than a peace treaty.
Park Geun-hye also addressed the use of a controversial law to deport Korean-American Shin Eun-mi on January 10.
South Korea has put in place a National Security Law which states that anyone who praises North Korea can be jailed for up to seven years.
The law was used to deport Shin Eun-mi for speaking positively about life in North Korea in speeches and in online posts. Shin Eun-mi has denied she praised North Korea.
Critics say the controversial law suppresses freedom of speech.
Park Geun-hye defended the law’s use, saying it was needed to “ensure security in this country as we remain in a standoff with the North”.
President Barack Obama arrived in Seoul for a visit that comes amid concern that North Korea may be planning a fourth nuclear test.
Barack Obama, who arrived from Japan on the second stop of his Asian tour, will hold talks with South Korean leader Park Geun-hye.
Their talks are set to focus on North Korea, following reports of activity at the Punggye-ri nuclear test site.
Barack Obama is also expected to express grief over last week’s ferry disaster.
More than 300 people were killed or remain missing after the Sewol passenger ferry sank off South Korea, in a tragedy that has shocked the nation.
Most of those who died were teenagers on a school trip.
Barack Obama arrived in Seoul for a visit that comes amid concern that North Korea may be planning a fourth nuclear test (photo Jung Yeon-Je/AFP/Getty Images)
Barack Obama is expected to hold talks with Park Geun-hye, visit US troops and then fly to Malaysia on Saturday.
Speaking in Japan, the US president called the North Korean problem “the most destabilizing, dangerous situation in all of the Asia-Pacific region”, and described China’s role in influencing Pyongyang as “critically important”.
Earlier this week, South Korea’s military said it had detected “a lot of activity” at the North’s nuclear test site, suggesting it was either planning a test or would pretend to stage one.
North Korea has carried out three such tests in the past, most recently in February 2013 – an incident that triggered months of severe tension on the Korean peninsula.
It also carried out tests in 2006 and 2009. All resulted in the imposition of sanctions by the UN, which bars Pyongyang from nuclear tests under resolution 1718.
A report from 38 North, the website of the US-Korea Institute at Johns Hopkins University, also confirmed increased activity at the site “probably related to preparations for a detonation”, based on satellite imagery.
The document highlighted “increased movement of vehicles and materials near what are believed to be the entrances to two completed test tunnels”.
While Pyongyang has tested devices, it is not yet believed to have mastered the process of making a nuclear warhead small enough to deliver via a missile.
China is regarded as the nation with the best chance of influencing North Korea’s behavior, because of their trade ties.
“We will not allow war and chaos on China’s doorstep,” foreign ministry spokesman Qin Gang said on Thursday.
“In the meantime, we have consistently and proactively advocated dialogue and negotiation.”
Also on Barack Obama’s agenda will be Seoul’s ties with Japan. The US wants its two main Asian allies to work together to tackle North Korea’s nuclear ambitions.
But rows over disputed islands and unresolved historical tensions have severely strained the Tokyo-Seoul relationship.
Last month, the US brokered a meeting between South Korea’s President Park Geun-hye and Japan’s PM Shinzo Abe in a bid to put things back on track.
In Japan, Barack Obama issued a firm statement of support over Tokyo’s dispute over a separate set of islands with China.
South Korea’s President Park Geun-hye has condemned the conduct of some of the crew of the Sewol ferry that sank last week, calling it “akin to murder”.
Park Geun-hye said that those to blame would have to take “criminal and civil” responsibility for their actions.
Divers are continuing to recover bodies from the ferry, as they gain access to more of the submerged hull.
The death toll now stands at 64, with 238 people still missing, most of them students from a school near Seoul.
Bodies are being brought two or three at a time back to Jindo, a southern island close to where the ferry sank.
Police, meanwhile, have been given access to hundreds of messages sent by passengers and crew so they can construct a detailed chronology of the ferry’s last hour.
South Korean President Park Geun-hye met the families of the Sewol ferry missing passengers
Park Geun-hye, whose government has faced criticism over its initial response to the disaster, told aides that the actions of the captain and some of the crew “were utterly incomprehensible, unacceptable and tantamount to murder”, the presidential office said.
A total of 174 passengers were rescued from the Sewol, which capsized as it sailed from Incheon in the north-west to the southern island of Jeju.
But there were 476 people on board – including 339 children and teachers on a school trip. Many were trapped inside the ship as it listed to one side and then sank.
Investigations are focusing on whether the vessel took too sharp a turn – perhaps destabilizing the vessel – before it started listing and whether an earlier evacuation order could have saved lives.
Details of the panic and indecision on the bridge emerged on Sunday, when the coastguard released a transcript of the last communications between the crew and controllers.
In the transcript, a crew member repeatedly asks if vessels are on hand to rescue passengers if evacuation is ordered.
Sewol captain, Lee Joon-seok, has said he delayed the move for fear people would drift away.
Lee Joon-seok, 69, was not on the bridge when the ferry began listing. It was steered by a third mate who had never navigated the waters where the accident occurred, prosecutors said on Saturday.
Sewol captain and two other crew members have been charged with negligence of duty and violation of maritime law.
Four more crew members were reported to have been detained on Monday over allegations they failed to protect passengers.
It has since emerged that Lee Joon-seok appeared in a promotional video for the journey four years ago describing the ferry journey as safe as long as the passengers followed the crew’s instructions.
Over the weekend, there were angry confrontations between relatives of those on board and police, after a group began a protest march.
The relatives say they want more information both about what happened and about how soon the remains of their loved ones can be recovered.
South Korea’s President Park Geun-hye has convened a meeting of security officials after the shock execution of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un’s uncle, Jang Sung-taek.
Ahead of the meeting Park Geun-hye warned of possible “reckless provocations” by the North and called for increased border vigilance.
Last week’s execution of Jang Sung-taek left the region in a “grave and unpredictable” situation, she said.
Jang Sung-taek, a key figure in North Korea, was executed for allegedly planning a coup.
President Park Geun-hye has convened a meeting of security officials after the shock execution of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un’s uncle
The move – together with the recall of a North Korean business team from China – prompted concerns that Jang Sung-taek’s associates were being purged as part of a campaign by Kim Jong-un to consolidate his power.
China’s foreign minister, Wang Yi, said he believed an “important change” was taking place inside North Korea.
China – which in state media has called for Kim Jong-un to visit Beijing – was “closely watching” the situation, Wang Yi said.
“Given the latest development in the North, it is uncertain in what direction its political situation would evolve,” Park Geun-hye said early on Monday.
“We also can’t rule out the possibility of contingencies such as reckless provocations,” she added.
President Park Geun-hye later met her foreign affairs and security officials in a specially convened session to discuss events in the North.
South Korea is staging its largest military parade in a decade, as President Park Geun-hye warns of a “very grave” threat from North Korea.
Cruise missiles and torpedoes were amongst the weapons displayed in the Armed Forces Day parade, reports said.
US Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and General Martin Dempsey also attended the event marking the 65th anniversary of South Korea’s armed forces.
They are currently in South Korea for security talks.
“The situation on the Korean peninsula… is very grave,” President Park Geun-hye said in a speech at the event.
South Korea is staging its largest military parade in a decade
“We have to build strong deterrence against North Korea until the North abandons its nuclear programme and makes the right choice for the people of North Korea and peace on the Korean Peninsula,” she added.
South Korea has displayed advanced weaponry during the parade, including the Hyunmoo 3 cruise missile, which Seoul says is capable of precision strikes on North Korean targets.
Around 11,000 soldiers and 120 aircraft were mobilized for the event.
Chuck Hagel, who is visiting South Korea for the first time since becoming defense secretary, has reiterated the US’s commitment to its military partnership with the South.
He and President Park Geun-hye are expected to discuss the eventual transfer of operational military control to Seoul.
Tensions between the two Koreas rose earlier this year, after North Korea’s third nuclear test in February.
Angered by expanded UN sanctions and annual US-South Korea military drills, Pyongyang threatened attacks on Japanese, South Korean and US military targets in the region.
Earlier this month, satellite imagery also suggested that North Korea had restarted a reactor at its Yongbyon nuclear facility, and tested a long-range rocket engine, a US think tank said.
South Korea’s presidential office has apologized after official Yoon Chang-jung was sacked during a US visit over “shameful” sexual harassment allegations.
Yoon Chang-jung, who was a spokesman for President Park Geun-hye, was alleged to have groped a Korean-American intern in a Washington hotel.
The incident overshadowed President Park Geun-hye’s first visit to the US last week.
Her former spokesman denies sexually harassing the intern, putting it down to “cultural differences”.
President Park Geune-hye’s chief-of-staff, Huh Tae-yeol, told reporters on Sunday that the case was “unconditionally wrong” and “unacceptable” and he apologized to the victim, her family and all South Koreans.
Yoon Chang-jung, who was a spokesman for President Park Geun-hye, was alleged to have groped a Korean-American intern in a Washington hotel
The unnamed intern, in her early 20s, was said to have been employed by South Korea’s embassy specifically for President Park Geune-hye’s four-day trip. The incident was said to have taken place in a hotel bar not far from the embassy.
A police report obtained by the Washington Post and Yonhap news agency said a 56-year-old man had “grabbed her buttocks without permission”.
Yoon Chang-jung, 56, told a televised news conference on Saturday that “if I have hurt her, I ask for her understanding and offer an apology”.
The former spokesman, an ex-newspaper columnist, also apologized for the harm he had caused “to the accomplishments of the successful US visit”.
During the trip, President Park Geune-hye’s first foreign visit since taking office in February, she held a summit with President Barack Obama.
Barack Obama said that they both agreed on the need to “maintain a strong deterrent” towards North Korea and were not going to reward “provocative behavior”.
North Korea will no longer be rewarded for provocative behavior, said President Barack Obama at a joint news conference with South Korea’s President Park Geun-hye.
Flanked by President Park Geun-hye, Barack Obama told a White House briefing North Korea was more isolated than ever.
Park Geun-hye is on her first foreign trip since taking office in February.
Ahead of their meeting, US officials said North Korea had moved two medium-range missiles from a coastal launch site, lowering tensions.
“The days when North Korea could create a crisis and elicit concessions, those days are over,” Barack Obama told Tuesday’s briefing after meeting privately with Park Geun-hye in the Oval Office.
He added: “President Park and myself very much share the view that we are going to maintain a strong deterrent, we’re not going to reward provocative behavior, but we remain open to the prospect of North Korea taking a peaceful path.”
“So far, at least, we haven’t seen actions on the part of the North Koreans that would indicate they’re prepared to move in a different direction,” he said.
North Korea will no longer be rewarded for provocative behavior, said President Barack Obama at a joint news conference with South Korea’s President Park Geun-hye
The visit by Park Geun-hye, South Korea’s first female president, came as the US and South Korea mark 60 years of their military alliance.
Park Geun-hye said South Korea would not tolerate what she called North Korean aggression and escalation.
“Instead of just hoping to see North Korea change, the international community must consistently send the message with one voice, to tell them and communicate to them that they have no choice but to change,” she said.
Pyongyang was believed to have been preparing for a missile launch last month, having threatened attacks in the region.
The threats followed tough new UN sanctions imposed on North Korea in March after its third nuclear test.
North Korea has also been angered by wide-ranging annual US-South Korea military drills, which ended a week ago.
Meanwhile, the state-owned Bank of China said it was halting transactions from North Korea’s Foreign Trade Bank on Tuesday.
It is thought to be the first time that a Chinese entity has made a move against North Korean interests following the recent tension.
A US official said North Korea has removed two medium-range missiles from a coastal launch site, indicating a lowering of tension on the peninsula.
Pyongyang was believed to be preparing for a launch last month, having threatened attacks in the region.
The threats followed tough new UN sanctions imposed on North Korea in March after its third nuclear test.
North Korea has been angered by wide-ranging annual US-South Korea military drills, which ended a week ago.
The news that the missiles had been removed from the site on the east coast came on the eve of a summit in Washington between the US and South Korean presidents.
South Korea’s President Park Geun-hye is to hold talks with US President Barack Obama later on Tuesday, with the two expected to reiterate a commitment to strong ties. Park, Geun-hye who took office in February, will also address the US Congress on Wednesday.
The Musudan missiles had been ready to launch at any moment but North Korea had now “moved them”, an unnamed US defense official told AFP news agency.
North Korea has removed two medium-range missiles from a coastal launch site, indicating a lowering of tension on the peninsula
A report from South Korea’s Yonhap news agency, citing an unnamed senior government source, backed that up, saying Pyongyang appeared to have lifted its highest combat alert and moved the missiles, although their current location was not confirmed.
The move is the most tangible sign yet that North Korea has stepped back from its threats to launch missiles.
But a senior US official from the National Security Council warned that, given the North’s unpredictable behavior, it was “premature to celebrate it as good news”.
Pentagon spokesman George Little, who declined to comment directly on the missiles’ reported removal, told reporters “what we have seen recently is a provocation pause”.
“And we think that’s obviously beneficial to efforts to ensure we have peace and stability on the Korean peninsula.”
Meanwhile, the Beijing-based Bank of China said it was halting transactions from North Korea’s Foreign Trade Bank.
The US imposed sanctions on North Korea’s main foreign exchange bank after the recent nuclear tests and had urged other countries, including China, to cut ties with the bank.
The Bank of China made the announcement in a statement but did not provide further details.
This is the first time that a Chinese entity has made a move against North Korean interests following the recent tension, according to reports.
North Korea unveiled medium-range Musudan missiles during a military parade in 2010 but had not yet tested them.
Last month, South Korea raised its alert level to “vital threat” amid indications that Pyongyang was preparing for a launch.
At least one ballistic missile with an estimated 2,000-mile range had been fuelled and ready for launch, according to US and South Korean sources.
A test launch would be a violation of UN Security Council Resolution 1718, passed in 2006, which states the North “must not conduct any further nuclear test or launch of a ballistic missile”.
Pyongyang had issued a series of threats in apparent response to the expanded UN sanctions and the US-South Korea drills – which saw nuclear-capable B2 and B52 bombers flown over the Korean peninsula.
These included warnings of attacks on Japan, South Korea and US military bases in the region, and a pledge to restart a mothballed nuclear reactor that produced plutonium for its weapons programme.
In addition, it shut down an emergency military hotline between Seoul and Pyongyang, and later withdrew some 53,000 workers in April from Kaesong Industrial Complex on the border with South Korea.
Kaesong complex, which was launched in 2003, employed people from both countries and was seen as one of the last remaining symbols of inter-Korean co-operation.
The final South Korean workers left the factory last week – the first time they have done so since the zone began operating 10 years ago.
However the tone of the rhetoric from North Korea has softened somewhat in recent days, observers say.
North Korea has not responded to South Korea’s calls for formal talks on resuming operations at the joint Kaesong Industrial Complex, officials in Seoul say.
On Thursday, Seoul gave the North 24 hours to agree to talks on the Kaesong Industrial Complex, warning of “grave measures” if its offer was ignored.
South Korea’s President Park Geun-hye has called a security meeting to discuss next steps, Yonhap news agency reported.
North-South tensions are high following Pyongyang’s nuclear test in February.
Pyongyang blocked South Korean access to the site and pulled out its 53,000 workers earlier this month.
North Korea has not responded to South Korea’s calls for formal talks on resuming operations at the joint Kaesong Industrial Complex
“We are keeping close tabs on all developments, but the North has not expressed its position so far,” South Korean Ministry of Unification spokesman Kim Hyung-suk said, shortly before the noon deadline.
“All that remains is for the North to make its decision to resolve the issue,” he added.
A report on South Korea’s Yonhap news agency, citing presidential palace spokesman Yoon Chang-jung, said President Park Geun-hye had scheduled a meeting with foreign affairs and security ministers at 15:00 local time on the matter.
The remaining 175 South Koreans still in the complex are believed to be running out of food and medicines, because the North has refused to allow fresh supplies from the South into the industrial park, which is located inside North Korea.
The South Korean government has refused to spell out what measures it may take, but there is speculation that it may be considering pulling out its remaining citizens from the complex.
However, that would leave South Korean assets open to seizure by the North Korean authorities, as happened before at a moth-balled tourism site run by the two countries.
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon was aware of the South’s call for talks, and “sincerely [hoped] the operation of the complex [could] return to normal as soon as possible through dialogue,” a UN spokesman said on Thursday.
Kaesong Industrial Complex, which was launched in 2003 as a sign of North-South co-operation, was the biggest contributor to inter-Korean trade and provided the North with much-needed hard currency.
US Secretary of State John Kerry has arrived in South Korean capital Seoul for talks on the escalating tensions on the Korean peninsula.
John Kerry is discussing the crisis with President Park Geun-hye and his South Korean counterpart as well as US military commanders in the country.
US officials have said the secretary of state will use his Asian tour to urge China to use its influence to rein in Pyongyang.
John Kerry’s visit comes as a US report said North Korea could be capable of launching a nuclear-armed missile.
US Secretary of State John Kerry has arrived in Seoul for talks on the escalating tensions on the Korean peninsula
The Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) report, a declassified section of which was disclosed by a US Congressman, said there was “moderate” confidence that Pyongyang had developed the technology to mount a nuclear warhead on a missile, though noted that its “reliability will be low”.
However, the Pentagon has since said it would be “inaccurate” to suggest North Korea has fully developed and tested such weapons.
In a statement, it said the US continued to monitor the situation, and called on North Korea to “honor its international obligations”.
John Kerry’s visit to South Korea begins his first trip to Asia since becoming secretary of state. On Saturday he will travel to Beijing and on Sunday, go on to Tokyo.
His tour comes as South Korea is on a high state of alert amid indications that North Korea is preparing for a missile test.
Pyongyang has moved two Musudan ballistic missiles to its east coast. Estimates of their range vary, but some suggest the missiles could travel 2,500 miles.
That would put US bases on Guam within range, although it is not believed that the Musudan has been tested before.
John Kerry’s trip has been planned for several weeks but the rising tensions have given it a new sense of urgency.
The US diplomacy is of limited use in dealing with North Korea itself, but that his visit is intended to reassure Washington’s allies in Seoul and Tokyo about American support.
US officials have said John Kerry will use his time in Beijing to put pressure on China – Pyongyang’s last remaining ally – to use its influence over North Korea to calm the tensions.
“Fundamentally we would want them to use some of that leverage because otherwise it is very destabilizing and it threatens the whole region,” an official told reporters on board John Kerry’s plane.
However, in the past few days North Korea’s media appear to be in more of a holiday mood, due to the approach of Monday’s celebrations marking the birth of national founder Kim Il-sung – a potential launch date for a new missile test.
North Korea has hit out at South Korea’s President Park Geun-hye, a day after she urged Pyongyang to change course and abandon its nuclear goals.
Warning her against “slandering”, North Korea told Park Geun-hye to behave with discretion to avoid “horrible disaster”.
Park Geun-hye’s comments came as she marked three years since the deadly sinking of a South Korean warship.
Overnight, meanwhile, South Korea briefly placed a border military unit on its highest alert.
South Korea’s President Park Geun-hye spoke in Daejeon, where the 46 sailors who died when the Cheonan warship sank on 26 March 2010 are buried
The alert happened early on Wednesday after a South Korean soldier discovered a “strange object” at the border, military officials said. The alert prepares troops for a possible incursion from North Korea.
The soldier, who was at a military post in Hwacheon, in South Korea’s north-eastern Gangwon province, threw a grenade at the object at around 02:30 local time, officials said. The alert was lifted at 09:20 local time.
Tensions are high on the Korean peninsula following multiple threats from North Korea in recent days.
The border incident came hours after North Korea said it had ordered artillery and rocket units into “combat posture” to prepare to target US bases in Hawaii, Guam and the US mainland.
Pentagon spokesman George Little said that North Korea’s threats “followed a pattern designed to raise tensions” and that North Korea would “achieve nothing by these threats”.
North Korea has been angered by fresh UN sanctions imposed after its nuclear test on February 12. It also bitterly opposes joint US-South Korea military drills that are currently taking place.
In its latest statement, carried by state-run KCNA news agency, North Korea told President Park Geun-hye that its patience was being pushed to the limit.
“She should behave with discretion, clearly mindful that a wrong word may entail horrible disaster at a time when the North-South relations are being pushed to the lowest ebb and the danger of an all-out war is increasing on the Korean Peninsula,” it said.
“If she keeps to the road of confrontation like traitor [former president] Lee [Myung-bak], defying the warnings of the DPRK [North Korea], she will meet a miserable ruin.”
On Tuesday Park Geun-hye had told the North its only path to survival lay “in stopping provocations and threats, abandoning its nuclear weaponry and missiles”.
Park Geun-hye spoke in Daejeon, where the 46 sailors who died when the Cheonan warship sank on 26 March 2010 are buried. South Korea says a North Korean torpedo sank the ship; Pyongyang denies any role in the incident.
The South Korean president has spoken in the past of a desire for more dialogue with North Korea but current tensions are obstructing movements to improve ties.
Late on Tuesday, North Korean state-run media also reported that its top political bureau would soon hold a rare meeting to discuss “an important issue for victoriously advancing the Korean revolution”.
It did not specify the issue, or the date of the meeting.
North Korea has announced it is scrapping all non-aggression pacts with South Korea, closing its hotline with Seoul and shutting their shared border point.
The announcement follows a fresh round of UN sanctions punishing Pyongyang for its nuclear test last month.
Earlier, Pyongyang said it had a right to carry out a pre-emptive nuclear strike and was pulling out of the armistice which ended the Korean War.
The US said “extreme rhetoric” was not unusual for Pyongyang.
South Korea’s President Park Geun-hye said the current security situation was “very grave” but that she would “deal strongly” with provocation from the North.
Park Geun-hye also said she was ready to talk to Pyongyang if it “comes out on the path toward change”.
The North Korean announcement, carried on the KCNA state news agency, said the North was cancelling all non-aggression pacts with the South and closing the main Panmunjom border crossing inside the Demilitarized Zone.
It also said it was notifying the South that it was “immediately” cutting off the North-South hotline, saying there was “nothing to talk to the puppet group of traitors about”.
The hotline, installed in 1971, is intended as a means of direct communication at a time of high tension, but is also used to co-ordinate the passage of people and goods through the heavily-fortified Demilitarized Zone.
North Korean leader Kim Jong-un also visited front-line military units that were involved in the shelling of a South Korean island in 2010, KCNA reports.
The reports said he had urged soldiers to keep themselves ready to “annihilate the enemy” at any time.
It appears the North is trying to build a sense of crisis domestically, with a large rally staged in Pyongyang on Friday and reports of camouflage netting on public transport.
North Korea has breached agreements before and withdrawing from them does not necessarily mean war, our correspondent says, but it does signal a more unpredictable and unstable situation.
Shutting down the hotline will leave both more exposed to misunderstandings, she adds.
Seoul’s defence ministry spokesman Kim Min-seok said that if the North were to carry out a nuclear attack on South Korea it would become “extinct from the Earth by the will of mankind”.
Kim Min-seok also warned that in response to any provocation from the North, Seoul would “immediately” turn the US-South Korean military drills currently being conducted “into a punishment mode to respond to it as planned”.
North Korea has announced it is scrapping all non-aggression pacts with South Korea, closing its hotline with Seoul and shutting their shared border point
The US, the main focus of North Korean ire, said it was capable of protecting itself and its allies from any attacks.
“One has to take what any government says seriously,” State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said of the nuclear threat.
“It is for that reason that I repeat here that we are fully capable of defending the United States. But I would also say that this kind of extreme rhetoric has not been unusual for this regime, unfortunately.”
The North Korean declaration came after the UN Security Council in New York unanimously backed Resolution 2094, imposing the fourth set of sanctions.
The resolution targets North Korean diplomats, cash transfers and access to luxury goods.
It imposes asset freezes and travel bans on three individuals and two firms linked to North Korea’s military.
South Korea’s ambassador to the UN, Kim Sook, said it was time for North Korea to “wake up from its delusion” of becoming a nuclear state.
“It can either take the right path toward a bright future and prosperity, or it can take a bad road toward further and deeper isolation and eventual self-destruction,” he said.
US ambassador to the UN Susan Rice said the sanctions would “further constrain” North Korea’s ability to develop its nuclear programme.
Susan Rice warned that the UN would “take further significant actions” if Pyongyang were to carry out another nuclear test.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang issued a statement supporting the UN resolution and describing it as a “moderate response”.
Qin Gang said China – North Korea’s sole ally – urged “relevant parties” to stay calm and said the main priority was to “defuse the tensions, bring down heat” and restart negotiations with Pyongyang.
Strongly condemns North Korea’s ongoing nuclear activities, including its uranium enrichment programme
Imposes new sanctions to block financial transactions and bulk cash transfers in support of illicit activity
Strengthens states’ authority to inspect suspicious cargo
Requires states to deny port access to any North Korean vessel that refuses to be inspected
Calls on states to deny permission to any aircraft to take off, land in or overfly their territory if the aircraft is suspected of transporting prohibited items
Enables stronger enforcement of existing sanctions by UN member states
Newly elected South Korean President Park Geun-hye has warned that the country is facing “unprecedented” political deadlock which is hampering economic progress.
Park Geun-hye was sworn in as president last week, but has not yet been able to form a cabinet.
She has failed to reach agreement with the opposition over her plans for reorganizing the government.
They say plans to move the media into a new ministry would effectively put broadcasting under state control.
In a televised address, Park Geun-hye apologized for the deadlock, saying it had “caused serious delays to state affairs” and was “unprecedented since the country’s founding”.
Park Geun-hye dismissed the Democratic United Party’s claim that bringing the media into a new Ministry for Planning and Science was a move to control broadcasting.
“There is no other purpose than to strengthen the country’s competitiveness by creating a new growth engine and improving the people’s lives by creating many good jobs,” she said.
”We are in an urgent situation, and we cannot afford losing even just one minute or one second,” Park Geun-hye said, referring to South Korea’s struggling economy.
Newly elected South Korean President Park Geun-hye has warned that the country is facing “unprecedented” political deadlock which is hampering economic progress
The president also said South Korea was at “crisis level”, following the recent underground test by North Korea of a nuclear device and its launch of a three-stage rocket, both of which were seen as a breach of UN resolutions and condemned as a threat to stability in the region.
The debate between the DUP and Park Geun-hye’s Saenuri party has become uglier as it has drawn on, with many of those who oppose her plans reportedly accusing her of trying to force the bill through and behaving in an undemocratic way.
There is already a spotlight on how Park Geun-hye handles herself in power, because her father – also a former leader of the country – was a military autocrat who suppressed the pro-democracy movement.
Park Geun-hye was sworn in as South Korea’s president promising a tough stance on national security and an era of economic revival.
Park Geun-hye, who defeated liberal rival Moon Jae-in in December’s general election, took the oath of office in front of tens of thousands of people.
North Korea’s recent nuclear test posed a “challenge to the survival” of the Korean people, she said.
Trust-building was needed to tackle the “extremely serious” security situation.
Park Geun-hye, 61, the first woman to lead South Korea, succeeds President Lee Myung-bak, of the same Saenuri Party, who stepped down as the law required after a five-year term.
She is the daughter of former military strongman Park Chung-hee, who ruled South Korea for almost two decades.
Park Geun-hye takes office amid high tensions on the Korean peninsula in the wake of a North Korean nuclear test, on February 12.
In her inauguration speech, Park Geun-hye said she would “not tolerate any action that threatens the lives of our people and the security of our nation”.
“North Korea’s recent nuclear test is a challenge to the survival and future of the Korean people, and there should be no mistake that the biggest victim will be none other than North Korea itself.”
Calling on North Korea to abandon its nuclear ambitions, she said that in a challenging security environment South Korea could not “afford to remain where we are”.
A trust-building process was needed, she said, promising to move forward “step-by-step on the basis of credible deterrence”.
“Trust can be built through dialogue and by honoring promises that have already been made,” she said.
“It is my hope that North Korea will abide by international norms and make the right choice so that the trust-building process on the Korean Peninsula can move forward.”
Park Geun-hye was sworn in as South Korea’s president promising a tough stance on national security and an era of economic revival
North Korea’s nuclear test – its third – followed its apparently successful launch of a three-stage rocket to put a satellite into orbit in December. That launch was condemned by the US Security Council as a banned test of missile technology; diplomatic efforts to agree a response to the nuclear test are ongoing.
Ties between the two Koreas chilled considerably under Lee Myung-bak over his move to link aid to concessions on the nuclear issue. Ahead of the election Park Geun-hye had spoken out on the need for more dialogue but the recent nuclear test may make it harder for her to appear conciliatory towards Pyongyang, observers say.
On the economy, Park Geun-hye promised more focus on a “creative economy” founded in “economic democratization” that would expand beyond existing markets and sectors.
South Korea’s economic growth has slowed, the population is rapidly ageing, and demands for a fairer division of wealth are now being voiced on both sides of the political divide.
Policies would be brought in to help small and medium-sized enterprises flourish, Park Geun-hye said.
“By rooting out various unfair practices and rectifying the misguided habits of the past… we will provide active support to ensure that everyone can live up to their fullest potential,” she added, in an apparent nod to resentment towards the country’s giant “chaebol” conglomerates.
She also promised a “clean, transparent and competent government”.
“I will endeavor to shed popular distrust of government and strive to elevate the capital of trust,” she said.
Daughter of former President Park Chung-hee
Served as South Korea’s first lady after her mother was murdered by a North Korean gunman in 1974
First elected to the national assembly in 1998
First bid for the presidency in 2007
Has promised to redistribute wealth, reform big conglomerates and seek greater engagement with North Korea
Park Geun-hye, the daughter of former dictator Park Chung-hee, defeated her liberal rival Moon Jae-in in South Korea’s presidential election.
Park Geun-hye will be South Korea’s first female leader.
Votes are still being counted, but Moon Jae-in has admitted defeat. Turnout was high in a poll dominated by economic and social welfare issues.
Park Geun-hye, 60, will replace her party colleague Lee Myung-bak.
He is stepping down as the law requires after his five-year term.
Combined figures from the networks released after polls closed gave Park Geun-hye 50.1% of the vote over Moon Jae-in’s 48.9%.
“This is a victory brought by the people’s hope for overcoming crisis and economic recovery,” she told supporters in the capital Seoul.
Park Geun-hye, the daughter of former dictator Park Chung-hee, defeated her liberal rival Moon Jae-in in South Korea’s presidential election
Economic growth has fallen to about 2% after several decades in which it averaged 5.5%.
With the country having split almost equally along party lines, Park Geun-hye will have to work hard to improve relations with her detractors.
From the moment polls opened at 06:00 on Wednesday, millions of South Koreans queued to cast their ballots despite freezing temperatures.
Park Geun-hye’s supporters, wearing red party scarves, cheered as poll figures emerged.
Both bolstered and dogged by the legacy of her father, who built South Korea’s economy while crushing dissent, she apologized in September for human rights abuses under his administration.
Moon Jae-in of the Democratic United Party is a former human rights lawyer who served under former President Roh Moo-hyun. He was briefly jailed by Park Geun-hye’s father in the 1970s.
Both candidates put forward broadly similar policies, promising to boost social welfare spending, close the gap between the rich and poor and rein in the family-run giant conglomerates known as chaebol.
The issue of North Korea did not feature heavily in the campaign despite its recent rocket launch.
Both candidates promised more engagement with Pyongyang – though in Park Geun-hye’s case, more cautiously than her rival.
Ties between the two Koreas deteriorated during Lee Myung-bak’s term.