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Yonhap News Summary

All News 13:34 January 17, 2017

The following is the first summary of major stories moved by Yonhap News Agency on Tuesday.

(LEAD) More N.K. diplomats have escaped to S. Korea than made public: defector

SEOUL -- A former North Korean embassy minister in London who defected to Seoul last year said Tuesday a large number of his fellow diplomats have recently fled to South Korea, even though such flights have not been made public.

"A significant number of diplomats came to South Korea," Thae Yong-ho told a conference hosted by the conservative Bareun Party which will be launched this month. "Even now, there are a number of (North Koreans) waiting to head to the South."

S. Korea mulls over resolving trade friction from THAAD at WTO: source

SEOUL -- South Korea is exploring the "possibility" of resolving the ongoing trade and economic feud with China over Seoul and Washington's joint decision to deploy an advanced missile defense system through the World Trade Organization (WTO), a government source said Tuesday.

In July, South Korea and the U.S. announced a plan to station the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system on the Korean Peninsula within this year to counter the growing threats from North Korea. China has voiced strong opposition, arguing that it could hurt its strategic security interests.

Choi's niece acknowledges forcing donations from Samsung

SEOUL -- A niece of a woman who is at the center of a South Korean presidential scandal admitted Tuesday they colluded to coerce Samsung Group to make donations to a sports foundation under their control.

Chang Si-ho and her aunt Choi Soon-sil are accused of extorting more than 1.6 billion won (US$1.35 million) in donations from the nation's largest business group to the Korea Winter Sports Elite Center, which was established in June 2015.

Volkswagen executive to visit Seoul prosecution over emissions scandal

SEOUL -- A senior executive of German carmaker Volkswagen will visit South Korean investigators this week to discuss issues related to its emissions scandal, the prosecution said Tuesday.

Francisco Javier Garcia Sanz, member of Volkswagen AG's Board of Management, will visit the Seoul Central District Prosecutors' Office on Wednesday to discuss matters related to vehicles that have been confiscated by the authorities in the course of their investigation into Volkswagen's local unit.

S. Korean acting president calls for unwavering U.S. ties ahead of Trump inauguration

SEOUL -- South Korea's Acting President and Prime Minister Hwang Kyo-ahn on Tuesday called for enhanced ties with the United States ahead of the inauguration of President-elect Donald Trump, who expressed skepticism of Washington's alliances and trade deals with South Korea and other partners while campaigning.

During a Cabinet meeting, Hwang highlighted the role of the Korea-U.S. military alliance in ensuring peace on the Korean Peninsula and beyond, and instructed the government to further develop economic, diplomatic and military cooperation through close communication with the Trump administration. Trump is set to take office on Friday (Washington time).

Vehicle registration grew 3.9 pct in 2016: ministry

SEOUL -- The number of registered vehicles in South Korea continued to grow, nearing 22 million in 2016, the government said Tuesday.

Car registrations came to 21,803,351 units as of end-2016, up 3.9 percent or some 813,000 from a year earlier, according to the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport.

Samsung urges court not to approve arrest warrant against Lee

SEOUL -- Samsung Group and business circles on Tuesday urged a Seoul court not to approve the arrest warrant against the group's de facto leader, Lee Jae-yong, a day before the court reviews the special prosecutors' request for his arrest.

In the latest development of a widening corruption scandal involving President Park Geun-hye, special prosecutors requested an arrest warrant for Lee on Monday, accusing him of allegedly paying bribes totaling 43 billion won (US$36.3 million) to two foundations set up by Park's longtime friend, Choi Soon-sil.

S. Korea confirms 18th Zika virus infection

SEOUL -- South Korea has confirmed another case of the Zika virus infection, raising the number of people infected with the virus here to 18, health authorities said Tuesday.

A 40-year-old Korean woman was confirmed to have been infected with the mosquito-borne virus after visiting the Philippines, according to the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (KCDC).

Trump reiterates accusations allies free-riding on U.S. security commitments

WASHINGTON -- Incoming U.S. President Donald Trump has reiterated his campaign accusations that many allies are free riding on American security commitments in an indication he could make good on his campaign pledges to pressure allies to pay more.

"A lot of these countries aren't paying what they're supposed to be paying, which I think is very unfair to the United States," Trump said of NATO allies in an interview published in the British newspaper Times and Germany's Bild newspaper.

(Yonhap Interview) Only way out might be to freeze nuke program, resume talks with N.K.: expert

SEOUL -- The current sanctions-oriented approach to North Korea has proved to be a "failure" and a possible alternative might be to try to freeze the country's nuclear program and resume negotiations right away, a North Korea expert said.

In an interview held with Yonhap News Agency on Friday, Andrei Lankov said that seeking exchanges with and getting more outside information into the North can be the most effective method in inducing changes and opening up the reclusive state.

Financial minister vows to stabilize food prices before holiday

SEOUL -- Finance Minister Yoo Il-ho said Tuesday that the government will double the supply of fresh vegetables and promote discounts of agricultural produce to ease household burdens ahead of the Lunar New Year holiday.

During a meeting with the ruling Saenuri Party, Yoo pledged to make efforts to stabilize consumer prices especially for the low-income bracket ahead of the nation's largest holiday season that falls on Jan. 27-30.

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