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Yonhap News Summary

All News 13:50 January 19, 2017

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

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Court rejects arrest warrant sought for Samsung heir

SEOUL -- A Seoul court on Thursday rejected an arrest warrant sought for Lee Jae-yong, Samsung Group's de facto leader, dealing a blow to investigators who have been accelerating the probe into an influence-peddling scandal centered on President Park Geun-hye and her friend.

On Monday, an independent counsel team looking into the scandal announced that it sought the warrant against Lee, the vice chairman of Samsung Electronics Co., on charges of bribery, embezzlement and perjury.

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(News Focus) Samsung heaves sigh of relief as Lee avoids detention

SEOUL -- A sigh of relief was let out by Samsung Group officials Thursday after a Seoul court rejected a warrant to arrest the group's de facto leader, Lee Jae-yong, amid a snowballing corruption scandal that led to the impeachment of President Park Geun-hye.

Lee, vice chairman of Samsung Electronics Co. and the only son of the ailing Samsung Group Chairman Lee Kun-hee, left the Seoul Detention Center early Thursday after the court dismissed the warrant.

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N.K. leader conducts first inspection of military unit this year

SEOUL -- North Korean leader Kim Jong-un visited a military unit, Pyongyang's state media said Thursday, marking his first inspection of the country's defense establishment in the new year.

The North's leader toured the Korean People Army's Unit 233, stressing the need to boost its combat preparations, the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) said without revealing the date of his inspection.

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Acting president calls for thorough readiness against potential N.K. provocations

SEOUL -- South Korea's Acting President and Prime Minister Hwang Kyo-ahn on Thursday called for a thorough security readiness posture, warning of possible North Korean provocations, including cyberattacks, ahead of this year's presidential election.

During an annual security meeting involving the government, military, police and civilians, Hwang also instructed top officials to fully prepare against possible attacks by "North Korean spies, internal radicals and violent extremists."

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Department store sales limp on, reminiscent of Japan

SEOUL -- Sales at major department stores have been stagnant for the past five years and lack promising elements for a pickup, retail industry data indicated Thursday, leading some analysts to draw comparisons with Japan where the slump continued for 16 years.

Industry estimates for last year show 2 percent or less sales growth at leading department stores, a number seen since 2012.

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Moon widens gap with Ban in opinion poll

SEOUL -- Moon Jae-in, a liberal presidential front-runner, saw his approval rating edge up this week to widen the gap with his biggest rival, former U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, a poll showed Thursday.

The former Democratic Party head received 28.1 percent in support, up 2 percentage points from the previous week in the survey by RealMeter. Ban fell 0.4 point to 21.8 percent.

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N. Korea has likely built 2 ICBMs, placed them on mobile launchers: sources

SEOUL -- North Korea has probably built two missiles presumed to be intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) and placed them on mobile launchers for test-firing in the near future, military officials said Thursday.

The two missiles are estimated to not exceed 15 meters in length, making them shorter than the North's existing ICBMs, the 19-20 meter-long KN-08 and the 17-18 meter-long KN-14, the officials familiar with the matter told Yonhap News Agency.

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Report shows heavy debt burden on low-income group

SEOUL -- More than a quarter of the low-income group are indebted, with the amount of the debts rising with age, a welfare agency report said Thursday.

A study conducted by the Korea Institute for Health and Social Affairs (KIHASA) said that as of 2014, 26.8 percent of the low-income people owed an average 38.97 million won (US$33,290) of debts, which incurred 1.43 million won in annual interest payments.

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Won-dollar volatility hits 6-year high in 2016

SEOUL -- Volatility in won-dollar exchange rates hit a six-year high last year as the currency markets went volatile due to uncertainties, such as Britain's decision to leave the European Union, the U.S. presidential election and expected U.S. rate hikes, central bank data showed Thursday.

The daily foreign exchange variation of the won-dollar rate averaged 0.65 percent in 2016, marking the highest level since 2010, when the figure hit 0.81 percent, according to the data compiled by the Bank of Korea (BOK).

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(Yonhap Feature) In snowy Taebaek, blisteringly cold winter becomes hottest asset

TAEBAEK, South Korea -- For some, the annual snow festival in Taebaek, a tucked-away, mountainous city in Gangwon Province, feels like icing on the cake. Others, on the other hand, might not think it is even necessary in the first place.

Every winter, tens of thousands of travelers take a trip to this land of snow -- with or without the festival. People risk a frosty climb up the surrounding peaks and admire nature's magic that transforms bare trees and leafless branches into a snow-laden spectacle.
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