A year to remember, a year to leave behind

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A year to remember, a year to leave behind

It's time to put the year of the horse back in the barn, or maybe even out to pasture. Throughout the past 12 months, South Korea has had its ups and downs. There were times when the country united as one. Recall, for instance, the wild festivities of the World Cup and the emergence of a new, young president who vowed to end the old corruption and bring together all parts of the country, thus ending regional biases. There were times when people shed tears. Recall the unfortunate deaths of two middle-school girls and the typhoon and heavy rainfall that soaked the peninsula. Here are the top 10 news stories for 2002. May the good stay good and may the bad be forgotten.


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Seeing red: For a month, Korea kicked up a storm


Throughout June, the entire country was swallowed by Red Devil dervishness as Korea's national soccer team used the World Cup as its own personal foot-fest. Good-bye, Portugal. So long, Italy. Adios, Spain.

Before, during and after every match, gigantic clumps of people dressed in red shirts and waving national flags turned up in major streets and landmarks all around Seoul.

The Red Devils' enthusastic support for the soccer team not only spread through South Korea but caught the attention around the world. Look at all those fans! cried folks in Finland. Alas, the frenzy came to a halt when Germany beat South Korea, 1-0. Germany went on to the finals and lost to Brazil -- in Japan. With the success of the Korean national team's coach, who hails from the Netherlands, Guus Hiddink was lionized and even attributed with the invention of the windmill.

After the World Cup's closing ceremony in Japan, the country that had helped to stage the event with South Korea, coach Hiddink was rewarded with a honarary citizenship from the Seoul government and all sorts of other goodies and incentives. Seoul's City Hall Plaza, which had been the setting for many of the World Cup celebrations, became a near-holy landmark.


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In wake of 'Roh-phoon' lies a surprised nation


On Dec. 19. in a narrow and intense race, Roh Moo-hyun of the Millennium Democratic Party was elected South Korea's 16th president.

Mr. Roh received 49 percent of the vote. The President-elect's opponent, Lee Hoi-chang of the Grand National Party received. 46.5 percent.

On the following day, Mr. Lee announced his retirement from the political arena. It was his second presidential defeat.

Mr. Roh in April was nominated a presidential candidate after creating the so-called "Roh-phoon," in which he gained wide recognition from the younger generation during his party's preliminary.

However. for the president-elect, it was not an easy road as the Millennium Democratic Party disintegrated and his strongest supporter, Chung Mong-joon, bailed out on Mr. Roh on the night before the election.

Mr. Roh will be inaugurated on Feb. 25, 2003.


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Water, water -- almost everywhere


A raging storm and devastating floods swept across the peninsula in late summer. Heavy downpours in early August in the South Gyeongsang province, and the arrival of Typhoon Rusa in Chungcheong and Gangwon provinces late August left an estimated 270 dead and missing, and property damages close to 6 trillion won ($5 billion). The havoc caused 88,000 people to spend the winter in government-provided shipping containers that were turned into the victims' only available shelters. More bad news: Federal funds, it was learned, would only cover about 40 percent of the rebuilding costs. The government was criticized for a lack of effort in taking flood-prevention measures.

On Oct. 7, the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry estimated that the rice yield, hurt by the floods, will be 9 percent lower than that of crops collected last year.


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Prosecutors office takes severe blow


Jaws dropped when a prosecutor at Seoul's district office, Hong Gyeong-ryeong, was found to have beaten to death a murder suspect, Cho Cheon-woon, 32, during an Oct. 26 interrogation. Mr. Cho was being questioned for his connection with the killing of two reputed gang members. An accomplice of Mr. Cho's was found to have been tortured during an interrogation.

As the result of the brutality and violations of human rights, the minister of justice, Kim Jung-kil, and the prosecutor general, Lee Myung-jae, took responsibility for the death of Mr. Cho and resigned from their offices. Prosecutors and investigators were arrested and Mr. Hong was indicted.

On Nov. 15, the Justice Ministry announced that it was closing the special interrogation rooms at the prosecutors office.


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Candles in the wind for 2 teenage girls


On June 13, two Korean school girls died after they were accidentally struck by a U.S. military armored vehicle that was on a military training exercise at Yangju, Gyeonggi province.

Two U.S. soliders involved in the incident were acquitted of negligent homicide charges by a U.S. courts martial five months later.

The rulings set off nationwide anti-U.S. military demonstrations as well as a public outcry demanding the revision of the Status of Forces Agreement between the two countries.

Candlelight rallies commemorating the deaths of the two girls, Shin Hyo-sun, 13, and Shim Mi-seon, 13, were held at major cities, including several large ones at Seoul's City Hall plaza.

On Dec. 13, President George W. Bush sent his regrets to the families of the deceased via a phone call to President Kim Dae-jung. Protestors, however, said that the demonstrations will continue until Mr. Bush makes a televised apology. The protestors also demanded punishment for the two accquitted U.S. soliders.


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To North's reactor, a great reaction


Oct. 4, North Korea confessed that it was secretly continuing with its nuclear program, which was an infringement of a 1994 agreement with the United States. The North said it would halt all nuclear work in return for economic assistance. On Dec. 12, Pyeongyang, which continuously rejected nuclear inspections by the International Atomic Energy Agency, announced that it would remove the seals and monitoring cameras from all its nuclear facilities, and resume the operations.

On Dec. 21, North Korea confirmed that it had removed the surveillance tools installed at a nuclear reactor in Yeongbyeon. The United States, in response to the North's noncompliance, halted oil supplies to Pyeongyang.

On Dec. 28, the North expelled two nuclear inspectors because their mission had ended. Pyeongyang said that it was restarting the nuclear reactors to generate electricity. Others saw the move as a clear sign of brinkmanship.


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The case of the meandering $400 million


On Sept. 25, a Grand National Party representative, Eom Ho-sung, alleged that the $400 million emergency loans awarded to Hyundai Merchant Marine from the Korea Development Bank had been funneled to North Korea. Mr. Eom made the allegation during a parliamentary review of the Financial Supervisory Commission.

The money reportedly was given in exchange for opening the Mount Geumgang tourism project in June 2000, before the two Korea's presidents had their historic meeting.

The Korea Development Bank vice presidnent, Park Sang-bae, said "The emergency loan was made because we did not want Hyundai Merchant Marine, which was facing liquidity problems at the time, going belly-up when the Daewoo Group's problems remained unresolved." Both Hyundai and the Korea Development Bank rejected Mr. Eom's insistence that the money went to North Korea secretly.


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It's a good job -- if you can land it


On July 11, for the first time ever, Korea nominated a woman to be prime minister. Chang Sang, the president of Ewha Womans University, was appointed by President Kim Dae-jung during a cabinet reshuffling.

Ms. Chang, however, was widely criticized for alleged real estate speculation and for reportedly misrepresenting her academic credentials. Moreover, lawmakers on the attack pointed out her inexperience in international politics and questioned her ability to run state affairs.

On July 31, Ms. Chang failed to receive parliamentary confirmation by the National Assembly.

A former newspaper executive, Chang Dae-whan, was designated for the post by President Kim on Aug. 9, but he also failed following accusations for tax evasion and embezzlement

After a three-month vacancy, the National Assembly finally approved Kim Suk-soo, a former Supreme Court judge.


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A sea battle sinks unification plans


North and South Korea engaged in a 21-minute naval skirmish along the Northern Limit Line of the Yellow Sea on June 29.

The sea clash, which was the biggest border conflict between the two Koreas in three years, claimed the lives of four South Korean sailors and wounded 19. One sailor was reported missing. North Korea reportedly suffered 30 fatalities that day, although the figure could not be verified.

The incident occurred after a North Korean naval vessel crossed three miles inside the line and opened fire on the South Korean patrol boat that was warning the North to retreat.

The maritime boundary, which was drawn by the United Nation in 1953, was denounced by Pyeongyang, which had set up its own border in Septmeber 1999.

The North Korean provocation dealt a mighty -- and perhaps fatal -- blow to President Kim Dae-jung's sunshine policy.


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For their sins, 2 sons pay big prices


For two of President Kim Dae-jung's sons, 2002 would be a year they would like to forget. On Nov. 1, the Seoul District Court sentenced the president's second son, Hong-up, to 42 months in prison, fined him 500 million won ($408,000) and for good measure, added an additional fine of 560 million won.

On Nov. 11, the same court gave the youngest of the president, Hong-gul, two years behind bars, three years probation and a fine of 200 million won, Both brothers accepted bribes from start-up companies and other corporations in exchange for helping these firms win government contracts.

Meanwhile, in another corruption scandal, Kim Dae-eop, a former officer at a military hospital, accused the son of Grand National Party leader Lee Hoi-chang of dodging the military draft.

After an 86-day investigation, the prosecution cleared Mr. Lee's son.

The accusation, however, played a role in Mr. Lee's failed presidential bid.


by Lee Ho-jeong

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