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Inter-Korean summits, 'Me Too' movement among top 10 Korean news of 2018

All Headlines 09:26 December 16, 2018

SEOUL, Dec. 16 (Yonhap) -- The following are the top 10 South Korean news stories of 2018 as selected by Yonhap News editors.

▲ Leaders of Koreas hold three summits in 2018

President Moon Jae-in and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un have held three summits this year since Olympics-driven rapprochement was created on the Korean Peninsula in January.

Moon's first summit with Kim was held April 27 at the border truce village of Panmunjom. The Moon-Kim meeting was only the third inter-Korean summit following those in 2000 and 2007, both of which were held in Pyongyang.

After the summit, Moon and Kim agreed to work toward the "complete" denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula and sought to declare an end to the war this year to eventually move toward turning the Armistice Agreement into a peace treaty.

Moon held his second and surprise summit with Kim on May 26 at the truce village, two days after U.S. President Donald Trump called off his planned meeting with Kim in Singapore on June 12, citing the North's tremendous anger and open hostility.

After his meeting with Kim, President Moon said that the North Korean leader reaffirmed his commitment to denuclearization and willingness to meet with Trump. The Trump-Kim summit was held as originally planned.

Moon visited Pyongyang from Sept. 18-20 for his third summit with the North's leader amid stalled denuclearization talks between the U.S. and North Korea.

Kim agreed to permanently dismantle his country's missile engine test facility and launch pads in Dongchang-ri in the presence of international experts. He also expressed a willingness to dismantle the country's nuclear complex in Yongbyon if the U.S. takes corresponding measures.

This combined file photo shows South Korean President Moon Jae-in embracing North Korean leader Kim Jong-un during their first and second summit talks at the truce village of Panmunjom in April (L) and May 2018 (C), respectively. Moon and Kim embraced each other again at Pyongyang's Sunan International Airport on Sept. 18 (R), after Moon arrived in the North Korean capital for a three-day visit for his third summit with Kim. (Pool photo) (Yonhap)

▲ 'Me Too' movement rocks S. Korea

The "Me Too" movement that started in Hollywood has arrived in South Korea.

From the political to cultural and entertainment circles, female victims of sexual abuse by powerful men started to open up and challenge the injustices they had endured, voluntarily and involuntarily, for as long as a few decades.

It started with Seo Ji-hyun, a district attorney in Tongyoung, South Gyeongsang Province, when she posted her story on Jan. 29 about senior prosecutor Ahn Tae-geun's sexual assault against her in October 2010. She argued that when she openly challenged his wrongdoings, she was penalized, not applauded, in her personal evaluation in the male-dominated organization.

Her courageous move encouraged many other sexual abuse victims to come forward to reveal the ugly faces of many powerful men, from award-winning filmmaker Kim Ki-duk to acclaimed poet Ko Un.

Former South Chungchecong Province Gov. An Hee-jung, a political rising star with solid followers with his righteous and virtuous public image, caused probably the biggest shock wave in the society, which had been reeling from a flurry of reports about rampant sexual wrongdoings, especially in the workplace, when his secretary Kim Ji-eun revealed An used his authority to sexually harass her.

An was indicted in April on charges of sexual abuse and molestation, but a court in August found him not guilty for lack of evidence. Prosecutors appealed the decision.

▲ S. Korea adopts shorter workweek mandate

Under the revised labor law that went into effect on July 1, companies with 300 employees or over must reduce the maximum workweek to 52 hours from 68 hours. Smaller firms will gradually adopt the shorter workweek system.

The policy was one of President Moon Jae-in's key election pledges aimed at reducing what are often called "inhumanely long" working hours in the country and improving the work-life balance. South Koreans worked an average of 2,069 hours a year in 2016, the second longest after Mexico among countries in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).

The new rules have received mixed reactions, with supporters welcoming the move, while critics voiced concern over productivity. Experts pointed out the 52-hour mandate overlooks the situation of low-income workers who get paid by the hour as the shorter work hours will result in less pay.

Another major bone of contention under the new 52-hour system includes a potential revision of the law to allow for a more flexible operation of the scheme, in consideration of businesses' complaints. But labor groups have opposed it by saying it could offset the effect of the reduced working hours.

▲ Power abuse scandal hits S. Korea's judiciary

A power abuse scandal surrounding South Korea's Supreme Court centers on allegations that former Chief Justice Yang Sung-tae used trials to lobby the office of then President Park Geun-hye for the establishment of a separate court of appeals, his pet project.

The National Court Administration (NCA), the powerful body in charge of administrative and personnel affairs of the judicial branch, is alleged to have played a key role in Yang's campaign and devised plans to win support from top government officials, while curbing progressive judges and opponents to its establishment. Yang has denied the allegations.

A former NCA deputy chief has been arrested and indicted on charges of abuse of power and two ex-NCA chiefs faced court hearings for a review on whether they should be detained prior to indictment. The prosecution probe is closing in on Yang, whose six-year term as top court chief ended in 2017 upon his retirement.

The probe has drawn heated attention as some of the trials in question included cases whose rulings can have high political impact. One of them was the top court's long-pending case of Korean victims of Japan's wartime forced labor, which allegedly turned out to be held back by Yang on purpose. Prosecutors suspect the delay was Yang's decision to please Park since her government was seeking amicable relations with Tokyo.

The scandal has put the judiciary under fire with growing public mistrust over the independence of the court system and a widening divide within the judiciary itself over the probe.

▲ S. Korean society impacted by 'Gabjil' scandal

In April, Cho Hyun-min, a scion of the chairman of Korean Air Lines Co., South Korea's largest full-service carrier, has taken flak after shouting and throwing water at a middle-level employee of an advertisement agency during a business meeting.

The case has shed light on bullying by the rich and powerful, and people who are a "eul" under the direction of a "gab."

Originally legal terms, gab means a person with more power and eul means one with less power. "Gabjil" is used to describe the myriad ways that a higher-ranked person abuses people who are of lower standing.

Since the scandal, a string of similar cases in which those in superior positions bullied and verbally abused those in lower ranks, have occurred.

The country's retailers affiliated with family-controlled conglomerates, or chaebol, have carried out unfair and unilateral practices to the detriment of smaller merchants and subcontractors.

▲ BTS bursts into global consciousness

BTS, a seven-piece K-pop boy band, whose Korean full name is Bangtan Sonyeondan, or Bulletproof Boy Scouts, stormed into global consciousness with their two wildly successful albums in 2018.

"Love Yourself: Tear," released in May topped the Billboard 200 chart of the most popular albums slightly more than one week after the album was dropped, rendering BTS as the first Korean musicians ever to top a Billboard music chart. BTS claimed their second No. 1 on the same chart in slightly more than 3 months, with their next album "Love Yourself: Answer," released in late August as the final part of the "Love Yourself" album series.

With the feat, BTS engraved its name in Billboard history as the first artist to score a double victory on the Billboard 200 in a single year since British boy band One Direction topped the list twice between December 2013 and December 2014. BTS' album was also the first non-English album to top the Billboard chart since February 2006.

In October, BTS went on a world concert tour, which brought them to major American and European cities, including New York City, where the band performed at the Citi Field baseball park as the first Korean act. Only top-rung musicians, such as Paul McCartney, Beyonce and Lady Gaga, have performed there in the past.

Billboard later picked BTS as one of the Top Artists of 2018, with the band coming in eighth in the Top Artists category of the compiler's year-end music charts.

▲ Former President Lee gets 15-year prison term for corruption

Lee Myung-bak, president from 2008-2013, was sentenced to 15 years in prison for corruption on Oct. 5, becoming the fourth former South Korean leader to be criminally convicted.

Lee, 76, has been arrested and indicted on 16 counts that include bribery, embezzlement, abuse of power and others. The Seoul Central District Court convicted him of seven charges.

His trial centers on the ownership dispute of his brother's auto parts company that had long been suspected of being under effective control of the former leader.

The court ruled that Lee is the de facto owner of DAS and used his presidential power to benefit the company and his family, including accepting Samsung's payment of legal fees on behalf of DAS for a U.S. lawsuit, in return for a presidential pardon for Samsung Chairman Lee Kun-hee, who was jailed for tax evasion. The appeals trial of Lee's case began Dec. 12.

The former president has disavowed the charges and insisted the trial as a political retaliation by the liberal Moon Jae-in government over the death of late former President Roh Moo-hyun. Roh killed himself in 2009 while under a prosecution investigation into corruption allegations. Moon served as Roh's chief of staff.

The scandal has tainted Lee's long-established image of a self-made man who started off as a salaryman and rose to the top.

The prosecution of Lee has dealt a serious blow to South Korea's conservative politics, along with his successor, Park Geun-hye, who is serving 33 years behind bars pending a top court decision for corruption that led to her ousting last year.

▲ Home prices show signs of stabilization after tougher regulations

Driven by years of ultra-low interest rates and the previous government's policy of reviving the economy throughout the property sector, home prices in Seoul and other major cities jumped till September this year.

The average flat price in Seoul soared to 780 million won (US$694,382) in August this year from 490 million won four years ago. Seoul's home prices in August were 21 percent higher than a year earlier, despite rounds of measures to cool the housing market and rein in mounting household debt.

With the property market in Seoul showing signs of overheating, the government announced new property measures in September that included heavier taxes on home ownership and fresh mortgage restrictions on owners of rental homes.

Such measures have been effective so far. There were 771 apartment transactions in October, down 86 percent from a month earlier, according to data by the land ministry.

Home prices in Seoul rose 1.43 percent in October, compared with a 2.85 percent gain a month earlier, according to Kookmin Bank.

▲ Ruling party wins sweeping victory in local elections

The ruling Democratic Party (DP) clinched a landslide victory in the June 13 local elections and parliamentary by-elections.

The party won 14 of the 17 big-city mayoral and gubernatorial races, including those for Seoul mayor and Gyeonggi Province governor. It also secured 11 of the 12 parliamentary seats in by-elections held simultaneously with local elections.

The main opposition Liberty Korea Party (LKP) suffered a crushing defeat, as it won only two of the big mayoral and gubernatorial races. The minor opposition Bareunmirae Party failed to win even one seat in both the 17 big races and parliamentary by-elections.

The ruling party's sweeping victory was widely anticipated as the liberal party basked in a high public support rating backed by strong support for President Moon Jae-in and his drive for peace with North Korea.

Political analysts said that the DP benefited from the rapprochement mood that was created by a historic summit between U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un in Singapore just a day earlier.

▲ S. Korea hosts 1st Winter Olympics

South Korea staged its first Winter Olympics in 2018, with the east coast resort town of PyeongChang serving as the host from Feb. 9 to 25. The adjacent towns of Gangneung and Jeongseon also held select ice and alpine skiing events.

Almost 3,000 athletes from 92 nations competed for a record 102 gold medals. North Korea also participated in the competition for its first Winter Olympics appearance in eight years.

In a conciliatory mood, the two Koreas marched together behind the Korea Unification Flag -- bearing the image of a blue-colored Korean Peninsula against a white background -- at the opening ceremony. It was their first joint march at an international multisport competition in 11 years.

They also made history by assembling a joint team in women's hockey, the first unified Korean squad at any Olympics, winter or summer. Though the team of 23 South Koreans and 12 North Koreans lost all five of its games, it was hailed by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) as an inspirational symbol of peace.

South Korea captured five gold medals to finish seventh in the medal race. Its 17 medals overall were the most it has ever won at a Winter Olympics.

PyeongChang was also lauded for its smooth and efficient operations. In October, it reported a surplus of US$55 million.

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