- Last week North Korea cut ties with South Korea, leading to fears of rising tensions on the peninsula
- On Tuesday, fears were further stoked when the country blew up an inter-Korean Liaison Office on the border.
- The North is mad about balloons traveling from the South that contain leaflets and information critical of the regime.
The North Cuts Ties
At 2:50 pm local time, people at Daeseong-dong – a village in South Korea that sits just across the border from Kaesong – heard a series of explosions. Surveillance footage and subsequent statements have revealed that North Korea destroyed the inter-Korean joint liaison office building. This is just the latest in a series of escalations the North has been engaged in since early June.
Prior to this, North Korea had declared South Korea an “enemy’ and cut off communication between the two nations at the beginning of the month.
The recent escalations started over balloons sent out by North Korean defectors living in the South. The existence of these defectors, and the South’s open embracing of them, adds a lot of tension to the relationship.
These balloons are also seen as a massive provocation by the North because of the content attached to them. Sometimes activists will attach USB’s with shows, movies, and news articles from the rest of the world. More often, though, it’s leaflets with anti-North Korea messaging and news.
North Korea claims that these balloons violate a 2018 deal made between Supreme Leader Kim Jong-Un and South Korean President Moon Jae-In.
After the last round of balloon at the end of May, North Korea finally reacted. On June 4th, Kim Yo-Jong, the Supreme Leader’s sister and de-facto second in command, had this to say about the balloons and the groups behind them in a statement on official North Korean news outlets.
“Human scum little short of wild animals who betrayed their own homeland are engrossed in such unbecoming acts to imitate men. They are sure to be called mongrel dogs as they bark in where they should not.”
“I would like to ask the south Korean authorities if they are ready to take care of the consequences of evil conduct done by the rubbish-like mongrel dogs who took no scruple to slander us while faulting the “nuclear issue” in the meanest way at the most untimely time.”
It’s unlikely that these balloons are the only thing to upset the North. They have a history of complaints against other actions they perceive as aggressive; notably the joint US-South Korean military drills held every year.
Relations have continued to sour since the last Kim-Trump summit in Vietnam. And as of June 16th, North Korea still haven’t haven’t answered multiple routine calls from different South Korean agencies and the military; putting talks that were started in 2018 back to square one.
However, South Korea has tried to adhere to the 2018 deal that prevented propaganda balloons from going north. In the past, the government would partake with their own balloons and other provocative acts – like playing music across the border. However, these recent balloons were from private groups, which complicate things because South Korea does allow for the freedom of speech and expression.
In the past the country has stated that because of those reasons, they wouldn’t take action. Just a day after Kim Yo-Jong issued her statement South Korea’s Ministry of Unification announced that they were taking the balloon-groups to court to get them to stop. The government also plans to move legislation forward that would ban the leaflets.
Joint Inter-Korean Liaison Office
This past weekend, we saw even further escalations when Kim Yo-Jong said: “Before long, a tragic scene of the useless North-South joint liaison office completely collapsed would be seen.”
That office has been officially closed since January over coronavirus concerns, but, in reality, it hasn’t been used since March 2019 after the failed Trump-Kim Vietnam summit. As of today the site as been destroyed.
The destruction caused the Blue House to host an emergency meeting about the situation, where afterwards officials said:
“The destruction … is an act that breaches the hope of all people wishing for the development of inter-Korean relations and a lasting peace on the Korean Peninsula.”
“The government makes clear that all responsibility caused by this rests totally with the North Korean side. We sternly warn that if North Korea takes steps further aggravating the situation, we will respond strongly to it.”
This isn’t the first time North Korea has closed themselves off after opening up to negotiations. It’s also previously happened in 2010, 2013, and 2016.
Where is Kim Jong-Un?
Amid the escalations, there are rumors from as far back as April that Kim Jong-Un is either dead, sick, or hiding in a villa. As with many rumors out of North Korea, it’s hard to know for sure. There are have been statements from the leader, as well as photos and appearances that were allegedly taken recently.
This seems to contradict the reality that Kim Yo-Jong, his sister, seems to be making the decisions right now. Normally, official threats to South Korea are done by the Supreme Leader, not an underling.
Some experts don’t think this is because Kim Jong-Un is dead or sick, but rather a calculated move to bolster his sister’s credibility with other high-ranking officials and generals in North Korea.
North Korea is known for it’s extremely patriarchal society, and a woman in a high-ranking position is nearly underheard of. However, Kim Jong-Un may have a soft spot for his sister, in addition to the fact that leadership in North Korea is a family affair.
Both Jong-Un and Yo-Jong both spent many years in Switzerland together during their youth to be educated. Other photos and videos seem to show the two working closely together.
So it’s possible that these recent statements are a move by the Paektdu blood-line, the decedents of Kim Il-Sung, to secure their hold on the country.
See what others are saying: (Yonhap News) (Chosun Ilbo) (Financial Times)
YouTuber Accused of Murder After Using Livestream as Alibi
Stephen McCullagh may have eluded the authority’s suspicion if not for CCTV footage that allegedly puts him near the scene of the crime.
Police Peer Behind the Veil
A Northern Ireland YouTuber was charged with murdering a pregnant woman last week, and police told the court he used his livestream as an alibi.
On Dec. 18, 32-year-old Natalie McNally was stabbed to death in her Silverwood Green home in Lurgan. She was 15 weeks pregnant.
Police initially arrested Stephen McCullagh, also 32 years old, but soon released him after he persuaded them he was livestreaming the night the murder happened.
McCullagh, from Woodland Gardens in Lisburn, is a part-time assistant audience editor for the Belfast Telegraph and has a YouTube channel with over 30,000 subscribers.
His livestream was indeed active on the night McNally was murdered, but the footage of him playing the video game Grand Theft Auto was pre-recorded days earlier, according to a technical examination of his devices by cyber experts.
Senior detective Neil McGuinness told district judge Rosie Watters that McCullagh denied any involvement in the crime but admitted that the livestream was faked in a written statement.
The YouTuber later revised his story from that night to claim he drank alone at home then fell asleep.
Prosecutors alleged the suspect had devised a “sophisticated, calculated and cool-headed plot” and was “capable of deception beyond imagination.”
Damning Evidence Comes to Light
Police told the court they can trace McCullagh’s movements from the crime scene back to his home on Dec. 18 using CCTV footage from a bus and an account from a taxi driver.
A man police believe to be McCullagh is seen boarding the bus with his hood pulled down and scarf pulled up.
According to the statement, the man removes a black glove to accept his change from the driver, revealing a second yellow glove underneath.
McGuinness said it was consistent with the print of a Marigold glove found in a blood stain at the crime scene.
Police also believe the same man boarded a taxi. Based on an analysis of GPS data, authorities say the cab allegedly stopped at McCullagh’s address.
At the beginning of McCullagh’s pre-recorded stream, he told his audience that he couldn’t respond to their live chat messages because of technical difficulties.
“I could use my phone to dip in every now and again and check it, but I’ve decided that I kind of hate livestreams where people just sit and read comments and go, ‘oh my God, yes, ask me questions,’” he added.
Police allege he deliberately referred to the time and said “I’m not leaving the house tonight” to reinforce his alibi.
At one point, he expresses fear about rising crime and underfunded police.
“That’s why I love sticking to just doing crimes in a video game,” he said. “Keeps things simple, mate.”
See what others are saying: (BBC) (The Guardian) (Irish Mirror)
200 Children Seeking Asylum in the U.K. Are Missing
The missing include at least 13 children under the age of 16.
Children Missing From Hotels
There are 200 asylum-seeking children missing from government care in the United Kingdom according to the parliamentary undersecretary of state at the Home Office.
When children are seeking asylum in the U.K. alone or separated from their parents, the government puts them up in hotel rooms for temporary accommodation. They have done so since 2021 and have temporarily accommodated 4,600 children in that time. However, Simon Murray, the parliamentary undersecretary of state at the Home Office, said that 200 of the children placed in those hotels are missing, including at least 13 who are under the age of 16.
In response to this information, a collection of more than 100 charities sent a letter to the Prime Minister demanding the end of the procedure of placing kids in hotels over safety concerns. The letter says that these children are at risk of trafficking and exploitation by staying in these hotels alone.
Other officials have echoed these concerns, claiming these hotels are targets for organized crime where people use these vulnerable children for labor or trafficking.
Parliament Calls Incident “Horrific”
Murray told the House of Lords on Monday that despite the media reports, his department does not know of any kidnapping cases, though they are investigating. He went on to say there are many reasons why children go missing.
However, lawmakers were not appeased by Murray’s assurances. In a later debate, one member of Parliament called the missing cases “horrific” and another said that it was “putting children at risk.” The children’s commissioner for England also reportedly chimed in asking for, quote “assurances on the steps being taken to safeguard the children.”
Murray went on to say that the use of hotels for asylum-seeking children will hopefully be phased out as soon as possible but did not give a timeline.
The nonprofit Refugee Council called on the government in a tweet to spare no expense in the location of these missing kids.
See what others are saying: (Washington Post) (The Guardian) (The Telegraph)
100,000 U.K. Nurses Launch Biggest Strike in NHS History
Opposition leader Keir Starmer called the strike “a badge of shame on this government.”
The NHS Grinds to a Halt
Some 100,000 members of the Royal College of Nursing (RCN), the United Kingdom’s largest nursing union, launched a historic 12-hour strike Thursday after the government refused to negotiate on higher pay.
The work stoppage, which spans England, Wales, and Northern Ireland, is only the second in the RCN’s 106-year history and the largest the NHS has ever seen. It marks the breaking point for many underpaid nurses and the culmination of a years-long decline in the NHS’s quality of care, put under increasing stress by severe staffing shortages.
Although most NHS staff in England and Wales received a pay rise of around £1,400 this year, worth about 4% on average for nurses, they say it has not kept up with inflation as Britain plunges deeper into a cost-of-living crisis.
When inflation is accounted for, nurses’ pay dropped 1.2% every year from 2010 to 2017, according to the Health Foundation.
Meanwhile, the number of patients waiting for care has reached a record 7.2 million in England, or over one in eight residents, more than double what it was seven years ago.
In July, the cross-party Commons Health and Social Care Select Committee estimated the staffing shortfall could be as high as 50,000 nurses and 12,000 doctors, what one MP called the “greatest workforce crisis in history.”
Many nurses argue that boosting pay will help hospitals recruit more staff.
The RCN demanded a pay raise 5% above the retail rate of inflation, which amounts to a 19% increase, but both Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and the government’s health secretary have claimed that’s not affordable.
During Thursday’s strike, partial staffing continued to remain open for urgent care such as chemotherapy, kidney dialysis, and children’s accident and neonatal units.
Sunak and Starmer Brawl in Parliament
Labor leader Keir Starmer grilled Sunak during Wednesday’s Prime Minister’s Questions (PMQs) on the upcoming strike.
“Tomorrow will be the first-ever nationwide nurse’s strike,” he said. “All the Prime Minister has to do to stop that is to open the door and discuss pay with them. If he did, the whole country would breathe a sigh of relief. Why won’t he?”
“We have consistently spoken to all the unions involved in all the pay disputes that there are,” Sunak replied. “Last year, when everyone else in the public sector had a public sector pay freeze, the nurses received a three-percent pay rise.”
Starmer fired back: “Nurses going on strike is a badge of shame for this government. Instead of showing leadership, he’s playing games with people’s health.”
Sunak called Starmer’s demand that he reopen negotiations with the RCN “just simply a political formula for avoiding taking a position on this issue.”
“If he thinks the strikes are wrong, he should say so,” Sunak said. “If he thinks it’s right that pay demands of nineteen percent are met, then he should say so. What’s weak, Mr. Speaker, is he’s not strong enough to stand up to the union.”
While Starmer has called on Sunak to negotiate with the RCN, he has not explicitly backed the 19% pay raise himself.
Unless the government returns to the bargaining table, the RCN plans to launch a second round of strikes on Dec. 20 to be followed by ambulance strikes that Wednesday and the next.
If the government still refuses to budge, the union said in a statement that nurses will strike for longer periods in more places starting in January, disrupting more health services.
Other industries are also set to see work stoppages this month, including workers on railways, buses, highways, and borders, as well as teachers, postal workers, baggage handlers, and paramedics.