- Five dead, 600 injured as snow storm hits Japan
- Poll: 52% of youth fear terror attack
- New N. Korean defectors breed fury
Posted: 08 Feb 2014 06:05 PM PST
TOKYO: The heaviest snow in decades in Tokyo and other areas of Japan has left at least five dead and 600 injured across the country by early Sunday, reports said.
As much as 27 centimetres (10.6 inches) of snow was recorded in Tokyo by late Saturday, the heaviest fall in the capital for 45 years, according to the meteorological agency.
The snow storm hit the capital on the eve of its gubernatorial election. Observers say the heavy snowfall may affect voter turnout in the city of 13 million people.
As a depression moved along the Pacific coast north Saturday, the northeastern city of Sendai saw 35 centimetres (13.8 inches) of snow, the heaviest in 78 years.
Local media said at least five people have been killed in snow-linked accidents - mostly crashes after their cars skidded on icy roads.
Public broadcaster NHK reported more than 600 people were injured across the nation.
More than 20,000 households were still without electricity early Sunday while airlines cancelled 200 domestic flights a day after more than 740 flights were grounded Saturday.
Nearly 5,000 people were stranded at Narita airport Saturday as traffic linking the airport to the capital was disrupted, NHK said.
Further snowfall is expected Sunday in northern Japan, the weather agency said. -AFP
Posted: 08 Feb 2014 08:00 AM PST
MORE than half of young people in Singapore fear being caught up in a terrorist attack here – yet few are likely to help prevent one, says a survey.
Among residents aged 16 to 35, 52% worry about personally encountering a terror attack, yet only one in five said they would investigate or report suspicious activity, a poll by the National Security Coordination Secretariat (NSCS) found.
However, 68% trust the government to protect the country from such incidents.
The online survey, conducted last September and released on Wednesday, studied attitudes towards terrorism among 314 Singaporeans and permanent residents across different races and housing types.
More than seven in 10 respondents felt that terrorism is constantly changing its form.
Singapore has been the target of terrorist activities before.
In 2001 and 2002, the Internal Security Department picked up 36 men and uncovered plans to attack various targets.
In 2010, a map of the MRT network, with Orchard station circled, was found in the home of a terror suspect in Indonesia.
NSCS deputy director Loh Kean Wah said that while large terrorist organisations continue to pose threats, there is an increasing risk of "attacks perpetuated by self-radicalised individuals".
He said: "The proliferation of radical online platforms means individuals have easier access to extreme rhetoric."
To raise awareness about how to stay vigilant, the NSCS launched the "Let's Stand Together" movement last year.
Last month, it launched a campaign focused on terrorism with a series of installations at Raffles Place Park and various MRT stations depicting suspicious objects that had been camouflaged.
It also launched an online game called "Terror Watch", in which users race to foil a terrorist's plans to cripple Singapore.
Players at the site – letsstandtogether.sg/terrorwatch – can win prizes every week until Feb 19.
Said Loh: "Protecting Singapore against this evolving self-radicalisation threat requires the concerted effort of both the government and the individual."
However, the message does not seem to have raised the level of cautiousness among young people The Straits Times spoke to.
Civil servant Eugene Tan, 28, said: "There is the chance of a terrorist attack here but less than in other countries."
Audrey Peng, 18, who is waiting for her A-level results, said that if she saw anything suspicious, she "would not know what to do so I wouldn't report it".
To provide information or seek advice on security awareness, people can call the ISD Counter-Terrorism Centre 24-hour helpline on 1800-262-6473. — The Straits Times / Asia News Network
Posted: 08 Feb 2014 08:00 AM PST
Former residents of the gulag state share their stories of murder, famine and loved ones left behind.
CLARA Park makes her living introducing her homeland to tourists from around the world. But instead of trumpeting its attractions like an ambassador, the wife of a former North Korean party cadre shares what it is like to live on food waste and work for no pay in the reclusive state.
The 48-year-old is one of four defectors now working for Panmunjom Travel Centre, the only agency that offers tourists a meeting with a North Korean defector on a visit to the Demilitarised Zone (DMZ). The Q&A session takes place at Odusan Unification Observatory, which overlooks Imjingang, the river that flows along the tense border. Tourists are seated on child-sized furniture in a mock classroom adorned with portraits of Kim Il-sung and Kim Jong-il, as a defector fields questions from the curious.
This job earns defectors like Park an average of US$2,000 (about RM6,700) a month – a good supplement to the generous benefits they already receive from the South Korean government.
But money is not their only motivation.
"Our defector staff have a sense of mission... They want to help bring about positive changes to their homeland," says Kim Bong-ki, the agency's owner. "That's why they are sharing the reality in North Korea despite facing a certain level of danger."
Park and her colleagues are part of a growing community of defectors who are increasingly vocal about the hunger and torture they experienced in North Korea. Kang Chul-hwan and Shin Dong-hyuk also brought to light their brutal suffering in North Korea's prison camps in their respective books: The Aquarium of Pyongyang and Escape from Camp 14. Shin, who last year addressed the European Parliament, is so far the only escapee known to have been born in the North's notorious jail for political dissidents.
Growing up on a diet of corn porridge, soup and rats, Shin was so hungry that whenever given a choice between hunger and a beating as punishment, he would always opt for the beating.
As a child, he was so jealous to find his mother cooking rice - an extremely rare treat - for his brother one night that he turned both of them in for conspiring to escape, leading to their executions right before his eyes. Other civilian defectors have stepped into the limelight in other ways.
Kim Ha-na, for instance, shared her odyssey while competing on the reality show Masterchef Korea. Lee Hyeon-seo made a mark at the global TED (Technology, Entertainment and Design) conference last year, sharing her struggle with identity issues. "I see tourists as my messengers. I hope they will walk away with a better understanding of my pain, and tell the world on my behalf about the necessity of reunification," Park says. "I strongly believe reunification is the only way to stop the North Korean tragedy."
The cool-headed Park escaped from the North in 2011, after plotting her route for more than two years without her husband's knowledge.
"I could not bring this up with him ... We think very differently," Park said in response to a tourist's question on why she had left without her husband. He has since been forced into early retirement, according to Park's friends from the North.
Park decided to leave after Pyongyang's currency revaluation exercise in 2009, when North Koreans were made to swap their old banknotes – up to just 100,000 North Korean won (RM142) in the black market) – for new ones.
The move, widely seen as a bid by the government to wipe out the "new rich", rendered the bulk of Park's savings – three million won in cash – worthless.
It spurred her to set off on a gruelling five-month journey to South Korea via China and Thailand, taking with her only her teenage daughter and rat poison – in case they got caught. Their courage paid off.
After surviving three months of grilling by South Korea's intelligence officers - a procedure to weed out potential spies - they were inducted into their new capitalist home, and have been coping well.
But Park is still struggling to overcome some hard-wired instincts. "I am still apprehensive about saying anything negative about the Kim family. I get worried even when talking to a close friend."
More than 26,000 North Koreans have resettled in the South since the armistice in the 1950-'53 Korean War, latest figures from Seoul's unification ministry show.
Dr Song Jiyoung, a political science professor at the Singapore Management University, says the vast majority of defectors need not be overly anxious about their safety, although "the infiltration of North Korean spies through mass defection to the South has happened in recent years".
The North Korean government tried to assassinate the late Hwang Jang-yup, a former teacher and adviser of Kim Jong-il, but did not succeed.
To Dr Song, the real problem is whether northerners can integrate into the highly competitive South Korean world.
Gina Lee, a tour guide with Panmunjom Travel, shares the same concern. "Even I found it difficult to fit in," says Lee, a South Korean who had lived in the United States for 20 years before returning to Seoul. "Over here, it's always hurry, hurry, hurry ... People also tend to be more cliquish. It's not easy for outsiders to feel at home."
The growing number of arrivals from the North might also be a source of brewing unhappiness among South Koreans, who might see red over the costly affirmative action programme for defectors.
The issue of housing is likely to be particularly contentious. While defectors are given decent apartments of about 70 sq m, Seoul's expensive properties remain out of reach for many natives despite a lifetime of hard work, Lee explains.
But Park is optimistic about her stay in South Korea. "My daughter is studying hard and doing well, so I see a bright future for my family."
She now has just two wishes. One, a happy marriage for her daughter. The other might never come true, but she lives in hope of seeing her husband and living with him again. — The Straits Times/ Asia News Network
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