N. Korea supports Russia’s war with Ukraine as ‘legitimate act of self-defense’

North Korea on Monday criticized the United States for its military support of Ukraine and supported Russia's actions as a "legitimate act of self-defense," underscoring the growing military ties between Moscow and Pyongyang. "If the rulers of the U.S. persist in recklessly pushing their war machine into Ukraine for a proxy war against Russia, it will inevitably provoke a stronger response from Russia," Pak Jong Chon, vice chairman of the Central Military Commission of the Workers' Party of Korea, said in a statement carried by the Korean Central News Agency. Pak further said, "It is Russia's right to self-defense to make a strategic counterattack to defend its security from the ever-aggravating threat posed by hostile forces. Any responsive action taken by Russia will be a legitimate act of self-defense." Last week, North Korean leader Kim Jong-un expressed "full support" for Russia's war in Ukraine and pledged to strengthen strategic cooperation with Moscow as he held summit talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Pyongyang. "We will always stand together with the Russian army and people in a just struggle to defend sovereign rights, strategic stability, and the territorial integrity of their country," Pak said. In particular, Pak criticized the U.S. for recently expanding its agreement with Ukraine to strike over the border inside Russian territory wherever Russian forces are engaging in cross-border attacks into Ukraine, not just in the Kharkiv region as was previously signed. "This time the U.S. has gone so far as to allow the Ukrainian neo-Nazis to strike any part of Russian territory at their will," Pak said. Source: Yonhap News Agency

Foreign ministry reviews ways to support foreign victims of battery plant fire

The foreign ministry held a meeting Monday to review measures to support foreign victims of a deadly fire that ravaged a battery plant in Hwaseong, south of Seoul, earlier in the day. Second Vice Foreign Minister Kang In-sun presided over the meeting, also attended by consular officials and expressed deep condolences over the deaths of 20 foreign workers in the fire at the plant run by lithium battery maker Aricell in Hwaseong, 45 kilometers south of Seoul. According to firefighting authorities, 20 of the 22 people confirmed dead were foreign nationals, including 18 Chinese and one Laotian. One person's nationality has yet to be identified. Kang instructed officials to maintain close cooperation with relevant embassies to provide assistance in arranging funerals and support to the bereaved families. The Chinese Embassy in Seoul wrote on social media that it immediately launched emergency operations to respond to the disaster and will do its best to help victims' families handle the aftermath. Source: Y onhap News Agency

Busan to host global conference on space research next month

A global conference on space research will be held in the South Korean port city of Busan next month, officials said Monday. About 3,000 scientists from some 60 nations were scheduled to join the 45th Scientific Assembly of the Committee on Space Research, which runs from July 13-21 in Busan, according to the Korea AeroSpace Administration (KASA). It will mark the first time that South Korea hosts the biennial global conference. "South Korea's status in the space field has been elevated enough to host the world's biggest international symposium on space science," Yoon Young-bin, head of KASA, said in a statement. On the sidelines, the Korea Astronomy and Space Science Institute, the Korea Aerospace Research Institute and Korean space companies, such as Korea Aerospace Industries Ltd., will hold an exhibit to promote their technologies. Source: Yonhap News Agency

N. Korea sends trash-carrying balloons again to S. Korea: Seoul military

North Korea on Monday sent balloons presumed to be carrying trash toward South Korea again, Seoul's military said. The Joint Chiefs of Staff said the balloons appeared to be travelling in a southeastern direction from the northern part of Gyeonggi Province that surrounds Seoul. It advised the public to not touch fallen balloons and report them to military or police authorities. On Friday, Kim Yo-jong, the influential sister of the North's leader, hinted about launching more balloons after North Korean defectors in the South sent balloons with anti-Pyongyang leaflets toward the North earlier in the week. In recent weeks, North Korea has sent more than 1,000 trash-carrying balloons toward the South on multiple occasions in retaliation against South Korean activists' leaflet campaigns condemning the North Korean regime. Source: Yonhap News Agency

4 SNUH doctors, 1 private practitioner under investigation over collective walkout

Five doctors, including four affiliated with Seoul National University Hospital (SNUH), are currently under investigation for alleged medical law violations in connection with collective medical walkouts, a senior official said Monday. The investigation was launched after complaints from the health ministry and consumers accused them of denying medical services as part of collective action by doctors in response to the recent hike in medical school admission quotas, Woo Jong-soo, head of the National Office of Investigation, said. Last Monday, senior doctors at SNUH and three of its affiliated hospitals went on an indefinite strike, demanding that the government reconsider the medical school quota hike, only to withdraw it on the fifth day amid public outcry. Also last week, some community doctors nationwide suspended services for a day in their collective action protesting the medical reform. The five doctors under probe include four affiliated with SNUH in central Seoul and Bundang, south of Seoul, as well as one neighborhood practitioner. Separately, police have booked 119 individuals for investigation, including 82 doctors, in connection with the alleged exchange of kickbacks between doctors and drugmakers. Police have been looking into allegations that drugmakers, including Korean Drug, bribed doctors to prescribe their products in return for kickbacks. Of those booked, nine individuals, including four doctors, have been referred to prosecutors for potential indictment, while suspicions have been dropped for another 13 individuals. Investigations are still under way for the remaining 97 individuals, including 77 doctors, Woo said. Source: Yonhap News Agency

(News Focus) Hwaseong battery plant fire likely to go down as worst chemical plant accident in history

The lithium battery plant fire that killed at least 22 people in Hwaseong on Monday is likely to go down as the worst chemical plant accident in the country's history, with experts raising questions about lax safety measures as the cause of the disaster. Firefighters are still searching for survivors eight hours after the blaze started at lithium battery maker Aricell's plant in Hwaseong, 45 kilometers south of Seoul, at around 10:30 a.m. Of the 102 people confirmed to have been working in the three-story building where the fire broke out, 23 people were unaccounted for, including 20 foreign nationals, according to firefighters. Around 20 bodies were found, presumably of the missing people, after one worker was found dead earlier in the day. Several others sustained injuries. Chemical plants are particularly vulnerable to large-scale accidents due to the highly flammable nature of the chemicals they handle. Similar accidents have occurred in various parts of the country in the past, with one of the wors t being the LG Chem plant explosion in Yeosu, 316 kilometers south of Seoul, in 1989. That accident resulted in the deaths of 16 people and 17 others being injured. In 2011, three workers died and five others were injured in the explosion of oil mist at an HDC Hyundai EP plant in the southeastern city of Ulsan, while in 2012, eight people were killed and around 10 injured after a chemical solvent drum can exploded at an LG Chem plant in the central city of Cheongju. Given their wide distribution, with many located inside industrial complexes nationwide, and their often small-scale operations, chemical plants have been a site of tragedies annually, and sometimes multiple times a year, despite regular safety inspections carried out by the government and related agencies. Chemical plant accidents also require strict follow-up measures as toxic material released in fires or explosions can cause secondary damage to neighboring areas. Lithium-ion batteries, in particular, are known to be deadly in case of fire, because they set off a "thermal runaway" process in which increased temperature releases energy that in turn further increases the temperature. Conventional fire extinguishing methods are rarely enough to put out such fires, as while the fire may appear extinguished from the outside, the batteries are still hundreds of degrees hot on the inside, which can easily spark another fire. The lithium battery plant that caught fire Monday was reportedly storing mostly primary batteries, which pose a lower risk of fire than lithium-ion batteries that are rechargeable. Still, even primary batteries can be dangerous as lithium in general is highly reactive to air and heat. Around 35,000 lithium batteries were reportedly being stored inside the plant at the time of the fire. "A fire in one electric car will take three hours to put out by throwing water on it, so with the amount of lithium batteries storied at this plant, it has to be extremely difficult to put out the fire," said Kong Ha-sung, a professor at Woosuk U niversity's Fire and Disaster Prevention Department. "More and more sectors of society are using lithium, so a response strategy has to be drawn up with special care," he said. Some observers questioned whether the large number of casualties in Monday's fire was caused by lax safety measures, drawing parallels with other disasters in recent years. Last year, 14 people were killed when an underground roadway in the central town of Osong flooded during heavy rain. Authorities were accused of failing to properly control traffic on the roadway and bungling their response to emergency calls. The 2022 crowd crush in Itaewon, which left 159 people dead, was also considered a man-made disaster. The government launched an industrial disaster response team shortly after Monday's fire to determine the exact circumstances that led to the accident. Source: Yonhap News Agency

Campbell expresses ‘strong’ support for ‘any measures’ taken by S. Korea against Russia-N.K. military cooperation

U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Kurt Campbell expressed "strong" support for "any measures" taken by South Korea in response to the expanding illegal military cooperation between Russia and North Korea in phone talks with his South Korean counterpart Monday, Seoul's foreign ministry said. Campbell made the remark as he spoke by phone with First Vice Foreign Minister Kim Hong-kyun, as tensions have heightened after Moscow and Pyongyang signed a new partnership treaty that pledges mutual defense aid in the event that either is attacked. Campbell "expressed strong support for any measures taken by the South Korean side in response to the security threats posed by the illegal military cooperation between Russia and North Korea," Seoul's foreign ministry said in a release. They also expressed "grave concern" over the deepening military ties between the two isolated states and "strongly condemned" them, the ministry said. South Korea said it will reconsider its stance on the arms supply to Ukraine, indicating a possible policy shift to providing lethal aid to Kyiv. National Security Adviser Chang Ho-jin said Sunday that South Korea will not be bound by anything with regard to its assistance to Ukraine if Russia provides the North with precision weapons, seen as a warning to Moscow not to cross the line. In Monday's phone talks, the two sides agreed to keep close tabs on any potential provocations by the North and maintain a thorough readiness based on strong extended deterrence, as they will continue close coordination over the issue, the ministry said. The two sides also exchanged opinions on the outcome of the security dialogue South Korea had with China last week, the ministry added. Source: Yonhap News Agency

(4th LD) Death toll in battery plant fire rises to 22: firefighters

At least 22 people, including 20 foreign nationals, were confirmed dead in a lithium battery plant fire in Hwaseong, south of Seoul, firefighters said, in what could be the worst accident to occur at a chemical factory. The death toll could rise further as one went missing while being out of contact, according to the authorities. As of 6:30 p.m., 22 workers had been killed, with two seriously injured and six others suffering mild injuries. Among those confirmed killed, 20 are foreigners -- 18 Chinese nationals, one Laotian and another whose nationality is not known, they said. The blaze started at lithium battery maker Aricell's plant in Hwaseong, 45 kilometers south of Seoul, at around 10:30 a.m., authorities said. Firefighters went inside the building to search for the missing person after the main fire was under control at around 3:10 p.m. The deceased were all found on the second floor of the factory's No. 3 unit. Other details of the dead have yet to be verified and DNA tests will be carried out as the blaze severely damaged the bodies. "The foreign ministry plans to closely cooperate with the diplomatic missions of related countries in South Korea to support the victims and their families," a ministry official said. Earlier, TV footage showed small explosions kept going off with showers of sparks in the burning plant. The fire reportedly occurred for unknown reasons at the three-story, reinforced concrete building with a total floor space of about 2,300 square meters. Firefighters reportedly had difficulties completely putting out the blaze because burning lithium batteries are difficult to handle by conventional fire extinguishing methods. One witness, who escaped from the second floor of the plant, told the Hwaseong Fire Station that an explosive combustion occurred in one battery cell at the time of the fire. The station said the fire spread rapidly as the battery cells inside exploded continuously, making it difficult for rescuers to go inside and search. At least 35,000 batteries are believe d to be inside the plant. The government convened an emergency meeting of the Central Disaster and Safety Countermeasure Headquarters in the afternoon to discuss measures to minimize casualties from the disaster. At the meeting, Minister of the Interior and Safety Lee Sang-min asked all relevant government agencies and local governments to mobilize all available resources and personnel to extinguish the fire and rescue survivors. Earlier, President Yoon Suk Yeol instructed Minister Lee to make all possible efforts to search for and rescue the missing people by mobilizing all available manpower and equipment. Source: Yonhap News Agency