- Disabled South Koreans protest "inhumane" benefits system
- Suspected gunman in custody after Atlanta church shooting
- Texas executes man for 1991 stabbing-strangulation murder
Posted: 24 Oct 2012 08:22 PM PDT
SEOUL (Reuters) - Wheelchair-bound Choi Jong-hun spends most Fridays in a makeshift tent encampment in one of Seoul's busy subway stations, eating instant noodles as commuters dodge and weave around him and a handful of fellow demonstrators.
He's part of a protest that has lasted more than 60 days and aims to change South Korea's benefits system, which campaigners say humiliates disabled people by "grading" them according to their disability.
While South Korea has made the leap from poverty to rich nation in a generation, its conservative culture, which prizes physical perfection, still largely fails to come to grips with the challenges of disability.
Choi and other campaigners say the government's assessment system, which determines the access to crucial basic pensions worth up to $100 a month, as well as awarding support services such as home help, is degrading and inhumane.
"How dare (the government) label us like meat?" demanded Choi, a 48-year-old former construction worker who had a stroke in 2002 that left him partly paralysed.
"No senior citizens or women are graded when the country provides welfare services. It's only the disabled," echoes one of the group's brochures.
Things are tough for the handicapped in other ways as well. They may be neglected by family members, who don't understand what state services may be available, while opportunities for self-support and mainstream jobs are also limited.
For example, visually handicapped people can't take the TOEIC (Test of English for International Communication) exam - required by South Korean companies on job applications - more than four times total, while ordinary people are allowed to take it 14 times a year, said Moon Jae-in, a liberal presidential candidate from the major opposition party.
As a result, the poverty rate for the disabled in South Korea- who make up around five percent of the 50 million population - is more than twice that of other rich nations, according to data from the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development.
"The classification system for the disabled ignores their dignity," Moon said.
In Choi's case, the assessment of his medical needs - including language problems as a result of his stroke - has been set as a "level 2" disability, which means he is not entitled to help with his laundry and cooking.
That forces him to live with another disabled person who has the highest level of incapacity classification, entitling him to a carer to help with daily tasks for free.
"The problem is that the criteria to classify disabilities and the demand for social services from disabled people does not match," said Jeong Jong-hwa, a social welfare professor at Sahmyook University in Seoul.
In particular, the strictly medical assessment system has problems since it fails to take into account the different nuances of disabilities, resulting in potential unfairness.
An official at South Korea's Ministry of Health and Welfare, which administers the benefits, says that it is aware of some of the issues and is studying the problem, although it may be moving too slowly for the country's human rights body, which is considering asking parliament to revise the system.
The official declined to be named because he is not authorized to speak to media.
Until any revision takes place, however, protests may be the only way to go. In the early 2000s, a number of disabled people shackled themselves to subway tracks to demand improved access to public transport, resulting in elevators in some stations.
"Passers-by sometimes say "why don't you have talks (with the government)?" said 38-year old Kim Jin-woo, who has muscular dystrophy and is taking part in the protests.
"But they have no idea. There's no other way to make this change."
Copyright © 2012 Reuters
Posted: 24 Oct 2012 07:10 PM PDT
ATLANTA (Reuters) - A former employee at a suburban Atlanta megachurch was taken into custody on Wednesday, only hours after he allegedly walked into the church with a gun and opened fire, killing a man leading a prayer service, police said.
Multiple gunshots rang out in the chapel of the World Changers Church International in College Park, Georgia, around 10 a.m.
The suspected gunman was identified as Floyd Palmer, a 52-year-old former church maintenance worker who resigned from his job in August, said Fulton County Police Corporal Kay Lester.
Palmer was arrested in an Atlanta shopping mall, nearly six hours after the shooting, said Jeff Foley, a spokesman for the U.S. Marshals Service.
"He did not put up a fight," he said.
As many as 25 people were inside the church when Palmer walked into the service and began shooting, Lester said. He fled the scene in a car.
Police identified the victim as Greg McDowell, a church member and volunteer. McDowell, 39, was taken to a local hospital and later pronounced dead, Lester said.
No one else attending the prayer service was injured or wounded. Police were trying to determine a motive in the shooting.
Palmer was charged with homicide and possession of a firearm during the commission of a homicide, and additional charges are pending, Lester said.
The church, one of the largest in the United States, is led by the Reverend Creflo Dollar, a prominent black preacher. Dollar was not at the church at the time of the shooting.
Earlier this year, Dollar was arrested on domestic violence charges stemming from an alleged assault on his teenage daughter. He denied the charges from the pulpit in June.
World Changers Church International serves nearly 30,000 members and has at least 10 satellite churches, according to its website.
(Additional reporting by Kevin Gray and Dan Burns; Editing by Eric Beech)
Copyright © 2012 Reuters
Posted: 24 Oct 2012 07:08 PM PDT
AUSTIN, Texas (Reuters) - Texas prison officials on Wednesday executed a man for the gruesome 1991 murder a women who was stabbed repeatedly with an ice pick and strangled with stereo wire at her Dallas-area apartment, state officials said.
Bobby Lee Hines, aged 19 at the time of the killing, was sharing a next door apartment with a maintenance man who had master keys to all the units in the building, according to the Texas Department of Criminal Justice.
Hours after neighbours heard screaming and other loud noises coming from the apartment of Michelle Wendy Haupt, 26, her body was found just inside the door of her unit, covered with about 18 puncture wounds, according to a summary of the case from the Texas attorney general's office.
Hines' fingerprint and bloody palm print were found in the apartment. Haupt's gold sand-dollar charm was found in Hines' pants pocket.
Hines was put to death by lethal injection at a state prison in Huntsville, Texas. He was pronounced dead at 6:28 p.m. local time (2328 GMT), said Jason Clark, a spokesman for the criminal justice department.
Hines, 40, was the 11th person executed this year in Texas and the 33rd in the United States.
In his final statement, Hines asked Haupt's family for forgiveness, according to a copy of the statement provided by Clark.
"To the victim's family, I am sure I know that I took somebody special from y'all," Hines said. "I know it wasn't right, it was wrong."
He also said that God has forgiven him and that being locked up for the rest of his life would have been more of a punishment.
"I wish there was some other way to show I'm sorry," he said.
Hines' execution was scheduled for earlier this year, but it was postponed so that DNA testing could be conducted on fingernail clippings collected from Haupt's body. The testing did not exclude Hines as a source of the DNA, according to the attorney general's office.
(Reporting by Corrie MacLaggan; Editing by Lisa Shumaker and Eric Beech)
Copyright © 2012 Reuters
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