Green-Tregaro makes colourful statement on gay law

The controversial legislation, which was passed in June, outlaws the promotion of homosexuality and has become a political hot potato ahead next year’s Sochi Winter Olympics, when it will apply to athletes and spectators.

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“It felt right,” Green-Tregaro told reporters, showing them her brightly coloured nails painted in red, yellow, gold, blue and purple.

“I wouldn’t say it was a protest more of a statement of what I think,” said the 28-year-old, adding she knew of one more Swedish athlete who had done it, 200 metres runner Moa Hjelmer.

Green-Tregaro, who qualified for Saturday’s final, got the idea after seeing a rainbow over Moscow shortly after her arrival in the Russian capital for the championships at Luzhniki stadium.

“When I first came to Moscow, the first thing I saw when I opened the curtains was a rainbow over Moscow and I thought that was a pretty good sign,” the 2005 world bronze medallist said.

“I hadn’t thought about it before then I decided to paint my nails. I usually do my nails in something that feels good for me and it was a simple way of showing what I think.”

World 800 metres silver medallist Nick Symmonds was more vocal in his criticism of the law in a blog for Runner’s World magazine earlier this month.

“These laws, which do not expressly prohibit being homosexual, criminalise public discussion of homosexuality, especially with foreigners,” he said.

“As an American, I believe in freedom of speech and equality for all, and therefore disagree with the laws that Russia has put in place.”

Foreign competitors and spectators in Sochi next year will have to abide by the law banning “gay propaganda”, which has led to some to call for a boycott of the Games.

Critics of the law have said it effectively disallows all gay rights rallies and could be used to prosecute anyone voicing support for homosexuals.

Last week, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) said it had sought clarification from Russia on how the law would be applied.

(Editing by John O’Brien)

Ricardo’s Business> ANZ calls August rate rise

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He’s the first major economist to make the call, following yesterday’s inflation data, which showed underlying inflation edging at the high end of the RBA’s target band of 2 to 3 per cent.

Mr Hogan says a small upward adjustment to interest rates now could well save the Australian economy from a painful series of hikes in 2012.

In fact, if indeed we do see a rate rise next week, ANZ doesn’t expect another increase until mid-2012.

The bank notes, the most likely factor that could keep the RBA on hold in August would be a significant deterioration in the US debt situation.

The RBA however, meets a few hours before the August 2nd deadline, for the US to agree on a new debt plan.

It comes as AMP Capital Chief Economist, Shane Oliver said today, that the latest CPI data shouldn’t be enough to warrant a move on interest rates because of the uncertainties surrounding the global economy, weak household demand and the strong Australian dollar. Instead, he believes the most likely outcome, is an extended period of rates on hold.

What makes this story so interesting, is that a fortnight ago, Bill Evans, the Global Head of Economics at Westpac, and interestingly Warren Hogan’s old boss ten years ago, made the brave call that the next interest rate move would be down.

Following Westpac’s Consumer Sentiment survey which pointed to a dramatic fall in confidence, Mr Evans predicted the RBA would cut interest rates four times by the September quarter of next year, starting with a 25 basis point cut in December.

The RBA will announce its decision at 230pm AEST on Tuesday.

Demons up for the challenge of rising Suns

Despite two losses with a margin totalling 159 points, including giving Greater Western Sydney their first win of the AFL season, Melbourne Demons coach Neil Craig says they’re approaching their clash with Gold Coast with optimism.

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The Demons travel to Metricon Stadium to meet the Suns on Saturday night, continuing their battle with GWS to avoid the wooden spoon.

They will do so without star forward Chris Dawes who has failed to overcome a calf injury.

Given a 122-point hiding by North Melbourne, interim coach Craig said there were enough signs in their 37-point loss to the Giants to suggest they could challenge the rising Suns.

Bookmakers don’t agree, rating Demons a $6.25 chance of victory.

“The North Melbourne performance was really poor, one of the most disappointing losses for the year,” Craig said.

“The GWS one needs to be kept in perspective.

“It’s more the fact that GWS is two years of age as a club and hadn’t won a game but in reality, the playing groups in terms of their profiles are not dissimilar.

“I was more disappointed with the North game.”

Craig pointed to statistics like his side still being in the game at three-quarter time, solid contested ball and stoppage work and improved ball movement as positive signs.

He lamented their costly unforced error count and inability to challenge GWS in the final term.

“Some of the football that GWS has played is very, very good.

“It’s disrespectful to GWS to say no-one should beat you.”

Craig said it was important for players to continue to give their all until the final round of the competition.

“We need to play the season right out irrespective of scoreboard or circumstance and that’s the path we will go down.

“We’re not interested in people who are putting the cue in the rack.”

The Demons are considering giving young tall defender Troy Davis his AFL debut after some consistent performances in the VFL.

Craig still hadn’t made a decision about whether he wanted to apply for the role on a permanent basis.

He said he was still waiting to see if he fulfilled the yet-to-be announced criteria of coach that the Demons board was looking for.

Tommy Danielson wins Tour of Utah

American Tommy Danielson won the Tour of Utah on Sunday, despite finishing third behind Spain’s Francisco Macebo in the sixth stage.

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Danielson, riding for Garmin-Sharp, finished with an overall time of 23 hours, 5 minutes, 45 seconds. He was second Saturday in the fifth stage.

The difference for Danielson ended up being the final climb over Empire Pass. He left nothing to chance, breaking away from the Peloton at the start of the climb and creating a large enough time gap to give himself a cushion on the descent into Park City.

Danielson calculated the risk of burnout from pushing so hard early in the climb. He kept a steady pace to the top to position himself for the overall win.

“I knew that the climb was suited well to me – being steep like that for a long time and at altitude,” Danielson said. “So I knew I had to take everyone to their limits, including myself, and try to get away at the bottom.”

Macebo, riding for 5-Hour Energy, earned the stage victory after catching Danielson and passing him on the final 3 kilometres. Macebo crossed the finish line in 3:12:52.

He led for most of the race after joining an initial group of 15 riders that broke out in front. Macebo stayed strong even as others in the group faded away in the Wasatch Mountains.

“I hit the climb and tried to find my own pace without getting too nervous,” Macebo said through a translator. “I wanted to be focused on my own pace more than any gap or any descent with the rest of the guys.”

Colombia’s Janier Alexis Acevedo, riding for Jamis-Hagens Berman, finished a bike-length behind Macebo.

Danielson placed 4 seconds behind the winner after leading for 5 miles when he overtook Macebo on Empire Pass.

Chris Horner, the overall leader after the fifth stage, finished second overall – 1:29 behind Danielson. Acevedo’s strong finish boosted him to third, 1:37 behind Danielson. American Lucas Euser was fourth at 2:02 back, and countryman Matthew Busche finished fifth at 2:06 back.

Australian sprinter Michael Matthews claimed two stage victories during the Tour.

Malaria concerns over Manus asylum plans

The federal government has been criticised for not ruling out sending pregnant women and children to Manus Island in Papua New Guinea to have their asylum applications processed, despite them being put at risk from malaria.

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Critics say young children and pregnant women can’t be treated with anti-malarial drugs.

 

Murray Silby reports.

 

The federal government has staked its political credibility in relation to the asylum seeker issue on its regional settlement arangement with Papua New Guinea.

 

Under the arangement, all asylum seekers to arrive by boat will be sent to Papua New Guinea for their applications to be processed and if found to be refugees they will be settled in PNG, not in Australia.

 

The government says that might include pregnant women and children.

 

Australian Greens’ leader Christine Milne says that would expose them to potentially fatal consequencs.

 

“We’ve had health experts telling the government that children under five and pregnant women should not take anti-malarial drugs. That in children they (the drugs) can cause kidney failure, pscychiatric disturbance and in pregnant women they can cause miscarriage. The government knew that eight months ago and yet they sent women to Manus Island, six have come back pregnant women, three of them have miscarried.”

 

Immigration Minister Tony Burke says by not ruling out sending women and children to Manus Island, he’s actually taking the compassionate approach.

 

“If for example, I carved out children of a particular age, it would take about a fortnight before we saw boatloads of children of that age being pushed across the Indian Ocean and that is not a compassionate way to behave. So my policy principle is that people, everyone will end up being sent offshore, but they will be sent at a time that I am confident they are safe, that their accommodation is appropriate and that services are appropriate.”

 

But that claim is challenged by ChilOut, a lobby group that campaigns for the release of children from detention centres.

 

ChilOut campaign director Sophie Peer says Mr Burke’s claim is wrong.

 

“It’s simply not true. There’s no evidence to suggest that that would be the case. It’s just false to suggest to the Australian public that there are tens of thousands of women and children sitting on the shores of Indonesia or Malaysia waiting to jump on a boat if Australia starts having a humane policy. The boat journey is undertaken by very few people. It is a very risky journey regardless of the end place of detention or place of freedom. It’s still a journey that very few will undertake, regardless of what Australia does.”

 

Sophie Peer says local Manus Island women and children are themselves living with the dangers of malaria.

 

“Absolutely. It’s a dire health situation and if Australia is talking about being a regional leader, absolutely there is a serious malarial concern on Manus Island. It’s one of the worst places in the world for malaria and absolutely, the local children and women and the whole population are exposed to health risks and why Australia should knowingly add to that asylum seeker women and children is just beyond comprehension.”

 

Head of the Department of Social Sciences and International Studies at Curtin University Alexey Muraviev is also critical of the Labor government policy.

 

Dr Muraviev says the number of asylum seekers trying to reach Australia is only likely to increase, as the world goes through what he describes as an “era of global desperation”.

 

“We can only imagine how we would respond if this trend of desperate people trying to make their way to safety would increase five-10 fold. I think we would find ourselves in a hopeless situation and no Pacific solution, no PNG solution, no Malaysia solution will help us to deter organised criminal syndicates that engage in people smuggling or try to convince people that Australia will not accommodate them as what government is trying to sell now.”

 

Dr Muraviev also criticises the Coalition’s policy, which provides for a senior military officer to head a new multi-agency taskforce that would try to stop asylum seekers reaching Australia by boat.

 

“I think we’re just going in circles and trying to achieve a breakthrough by adopting half measures. The position also talked about using UAVs, Unmanned Aerial Vehicles, as a cost affective form of protecting our, or surveilling and policing our maritime borders. I don’t think it’s a matter of who is going to have jurisdiction over the border protection. Although I think it should really be Customs and Border Protection Command, not the Navy.”

 

Falklands says "yes" to remaining British

The residents of the Falkland Islands have voted overwhelmingly in a referendum in favour of remaining a British overseas territory.

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Only three votes out of more than 1500 were cast against the motion.

 

However, Argentina has rejected the vote as a meaningless publicity stunt.

 

Santilla Chingaipe has the details.

 

The referendum was held over two days following pressure from Argentina over its claims to the islands, 31 years after the Falklands War with the Britain.

 

The question was:

 

“Do you wish the Falkland Islands to retain their current political status as an Overseas Territory of the United Kingdom?”

 

Residents were then simply required to respond with a simple ‘yes’ or ‘no’ vote.

 

Chief referendum officer, Keith Padgett, says voter turnout was high among the 1,649 Falklands-born and long-term residents registered to vote.

 

“The total number of votes publicly cast in the referendum was 1,517. The percentage of turnout for the referendum was 92 per cent. The number of ‘yes’ votes cast was 1,513, which represents 98.8 per cent.”

 

Britain has held the Falklands since 1833 but Buenos Aires maintains that the islands are occupied Argentinian territory.

 

Diplomatic tension between Britain and Argentina has flared up again, more than three decades since they went to war over the South Atlantic archipelago.

 

Argentine President Cristina Kirchner has dismissed the referendum result.

 

Ms Kirchner says it will not affect Argentina’s claims on the Falklands, which it calls Las Malvinas.

 

But British Prime Minister David Cameron has urged Argentina to respect the wishes of the islanders.

 

“The Falkland Islands may be thousands of miles away, but they are British through and through, that is how they want to stay and people should know we will always be there to defend them. I think the most important thing about this result is that we believe in self-determination and the Falkland Islanders have spoken so clearly about their future, and now other countries right across the world, I hope, will respect and revere this very, very clear result.”

 

Meanwhile, the United States has refused once again to take sides in the dispute over the islands.

 

However, State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland says the US has noted the overwhelming yes vote by Falkland Islanders to remain a British territory.

 

“The residents have clearly expressed their preference for a continued relationship with the United Kingdom. That said, we obviously recognise that there are competing claims. Our formal position has not changed. We recognize the de facto UK administration of the islands, but we take no position on sovereignty claims.”

Residents of the islands welcomed the vote with enthusiasm in the capital, Port Stanley.

 

One of those was Neville Haywood, who told the BBC he hopes the result will allow the Falklands to be accepted on the international stage.

 

“Probably not Argentina, but maybe the rest of the world needs to start looking at it and thinking differently.”

 

End of parity: Experts say A$ heading south

That’s good news for exporters, but bad news for Australian travellers.

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The sudden decline follows speculation the US Federal Reserve may be winding down its bond buying program.

That essentially means, America’s central bank will be pumping less cash into the economy.

Economics 101 would say less cash, means less supply, bumping up demand. The greenback rises.

Technical reasons can also be applied, particularly as the US currency pushed through the 100 yen barrier, which also had an impact on the Australian dollar.

Commodity prices have also been weakening of late, and some traders would argue some shorting of the Australian dollar has also seen it fall.

But most of you, especially those planning a holiday in the Northern Hemisphere in the coming months really just want to know, where the currency is going.

So, I asked some of my contacts at the close of trade on Friday, for their take.

Generally speaking, most say there is scope for the Australian dollar to flirt with US parity in the short term, but they’re pretty unanimous that the future direction of the Australian dollar versus the greenback, and that’s down.

Chris Gore – GO Markets

“We have fair value sitting just above parity, around US$1.01. We’ve seen a material fall from the Aussie and a large part of this weakness we can attribute to a recalibration of stimulus expectations in the US. In short we think this change in QE expectations may be a tad premature and expect the A$ to regain some composure in the short term. We do however believe the local unit has a home below parity and expect to see a larger leg lower by year end, around US$0.95 in Q4.”

Shane Oliver – AMP Capital

“In the short term it looks like it’s heading down to $US0.95/0.96, which is the the bottom of range it has been in since 2011. Over the medium term it’s likely headed even lower. Commodity prices are now in a downtrend as mining supply pick up and Chinese growth has slowed a bit and the RBA is likely to cut interest rates further. As a result the overvaluation that has been apparent in terms of purchasing power parity measures is likely to be unwound. So it wouldn’t surprise me to see it fall below $US0.90 in the year ahead.”

Warren Hogan – ANZ

“It may go back to parity in the next few months but it is now past its peak. It will certainly be lower by the end of the year and we expect the down move to extend through 2014. It could go as low as the mid-80s.”

Stephen Koukoulas – Market Economics

“I see it at US$0.94 cents, reverting to fair value, meaning the level of commodity prices or terms of trade.”

Peter Maguire – PBM Commodities

“A$ looks like it has more room to move to the downside and our RBA may continue to drop rates over the coming months. If you’re heading to the USA over the coming months it may be prudent to exchange for US$ at around 98.5. It could very well be sub 96 by July”

Chris Weston – IG Markets

“Short term it could rally back to US$0.99 as it’s oversold and Bernanke will reiterate a dovish stance on Wednesday night. I’d sell into it though as medium term it will trade down to US$0.95 and lower longer term. The Federal Reserve won’t cut asset purchases until late 2013, early 2014, and the RBA will keep cutting. Foreigners are not buying the same level of Aussie bonds and there is news today that the Japanese are turning to Mexico rather than Australia.”

Craig James – CommSec

“We see the Aussie back to US$1.03 by September. The Federal Reserve won’t be lifting interest rates for some time, the US still has major budget issues to address and the Aussie is well supported by solid Australian economic fundamentals including a AAA rating.”

Rob Henderson – NAB

“The Aussie is now oversold on the downside and is below fair value at around parity. Medium-term we see it lower. Our forecasts for the end of this year is US$0.98, mid-2014 US$0.96 and end of 2014 US$0.94. But the story for 2014 will be that of a stronger US dollar against all currencies.”

Geale loses IBF title on split decision

A split second and a split decision cost Daniel Geale his world boxing title in his US debut.

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Stricken Englishman Darren Barker barely beat the referee’s 10 count after being poleaxed by a vicious Geale left to the body in the sixth round.

But somehow he recovered to lift the IBF middleweight crown, extending his country’s great run of sporting success over Australians in 2013.

One judge scored the fight in Atlantic City 114-113 to Geale, but the other two had Barker ahead 114-113 and 116-111.

Promoter Gary Shaw admitted he was stunned that the resilient Barker, looking in tremendous pain, was able to beat referee Eddie Cotton’s count and he backed Geale to win another world crown.

“That was a vicious liver shot, I was really shocked that Barker survived it,” Shaw told AAP.

Geale 32 (29-2, 15 KOs) tried furiously to finish the job immediately, tagging the challenger with some more shots and a stoppage looked imminent.

But Barker, 31, (26-1, 16 KOs) survived the onslaught and produced a real-life version of the Rocky story as he ended the round raining blows on Geale.

Barker shaded most of the remaining rounds, bar the 12th, with Geale unable to reproduce the late fight surges that were a trademark of his previous four title defences.

The Englishman dedicated the win to his brother Gary, who was killed in a car accident in 2006.

Geale was left pondering how the title was lost.

“I thought I caught a lot (of punches) on the gloves, and a lot were glancing, missing,” Geale said.

“I did feel in control. It wasn’t my best performance but Darren is a great fighter.

“He’s a very skillful guy. I knew I had to be on my game throughout.

“I knew it was going to be tight. It was a close fight. I’m very disappointed.”

Right from the early rounds, third-ranked challenger Barker showed he was going to be a formidable opponent, landing more power punches than the champion and sometimes beating him to the punch.

Geale responded in the middle rounds, teeing off with some good right hand shots, but didn’t seem to throw many shots to the body after the knockdown.

“I thought Daniel won it by a round. I had the score 114-113, but obviously the two other judges didn’t see it that way,” Shaw said.

‘We’ll fight our way back and I’m sure Barker will give us the same opportunity as we gave him.”

Barker may first have to make a mandatory defence against German Felix Sturm.

Asked if he thought Geale could win another world title Shaw said “Yeah, I’m sure.

“Daniel Geale is a real warrior, someone that the Aussies should be very proud of.

“Those are the types of fighters that television needs, so he’s a fan friendly fighter.”

“He came forward, he fought and didn’t back up so I’m pretty proud of him.”

On the undercard, Australian featherweight Joel Brunker (27-0, 15 KOs), who is top 15 rated by all four major boxing bodies, scored an eight-round unanimous points win against veteran Mike Oliver.

Isinbayeva lights up Moscow with fairytale gold

Yelena Isinbayeva, the greatest ever woman pole vaulter, thrilled a partisan crowd by securing the third world title of her illustrious career on Tuesday before saying she was taking a break to have a baby.

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The record-breaking Russian, twice Olympic champion and the first woman to clear the revered five metres barrier, was the only vaulter to jump 4.89 metres, pulling out a winning leap when it mattered most in an enthralled Luzhniki arena.

Her dominance of the sport she took to new heights with 28 world records, 15 outdoors and 13 indoors, has receded in recent years, but a season’s best leap was good enough to secure gold.

“I’m the pole vault queen, the crowd is mine,” the 31-year-old told reporters. “This victory is the most precious won in all my career.”

Isinbayeva, whose last global outdoor title came at the 2008 Olympics, had said she could retire after the championships but, after lengthy celebrations, told a news conference she would step away from the sport to become a mother.

“I’m not retiring for the moment, I’m just taking a break,” she said.

“I will have a baby next year and try to come back for Rio (the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics).”

After a nervous start when she failed with her first attempt after entering the competition at 4.65, a measure of her confidence with her rivals up and running, Isinbayeva grew in stature.

With a chorus of “Yelena, Yelena” reverberating around the stadium from the biggest crowd of a poorly attended championships, each clearance was greeted by a cacophony of approval.

Isinbayeva rewarded the support with punches in the air and squeals of delight.

One by one her 11 rivals dropped away. First American Olympic champion Jenn Surh, who bettered Isinbayeva’s world indoor record in March, failed at 4.89, then Cuban Yarisley Silva also failed to get over that height.

With gold assured, Isinbayeva ran to the crowd and embraced her coach and mentor Yefgeny Trofimov, who she split from in 2005 before teaming up with again in 2011.

Milking the moment and urging the crowd to raise the decibel level further, she asked for the bar to be raised to 5.07, one centimetre above the outdoor world record she set in 2009.

Three unsuccessful attempts followed but it could not spoil the former gymnast’s celebrations as she set off for a lap of the track which featured cartwheels and a back-flip.

Isinbayeva said she had fed off the energy of the crowd.

“I won because I was at home,” she said.

“I wanted to leave a bright trace. I want to thank all the fans – their support made it happen.”

Isinbayeva was virtually unbeatable between 2003 and 2008, when she kept raising the world record higher and higher, often by a centimetre at a time.

But plagued by injury and poor form and after failing to register a height in the 2009 world championships, she decided to take a break from the sport, returning after an 11-month absence.

She was again outside the medals at the 2011 worlds but took bronze at last year’s London Olympics.

She credited Trofimov with resurrecting her career.

“He resuscitated me. It’s all thanks to him,” she said.

“He is a genius, he helped me get my world title back.”

(Editing by Ed Osmond)

Will there ever again be one Korea?

Six decades after the end of hostilities on the Korean peninsula, what might the future hold for the two Koreas?

 

Many Koreans insist it is still one country – just a divided one.

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It’s a view that would appear to be held by governments on both sides of the Demilitarised Zone, but just how those two parts might be joined again remains a mystery.

 

Michael Kenny, with this report compiled by Nikki Canning.

 

Sixteen years after the Armistice was signed in 1953, South Korea established its Ministry of Unification to work towards repairing the country’s division.

 

The Ministry also has a counterpart in the North, in the Communist government’s Unification Strategy department.

 

However the philosophical and political differences between the governments on both sides would appear to be insurmountable.

 

2012 saw major changes on both sides of the DMZ.

 

The beginning of the year saw a leadership transition in North Korea, following the death of President Kim Jung-il.

 

His third son, Kim Jong-Un, became president.

 

Parliamentary elections in April saw South Korea’s ruling conservative Saenuri party retain power.

 

Saenuri’s candidate, Park Geun-hye, also won December’s presidential elections, becoming the country’s first female leader.

 

The daughter of a former military ruler, the 60-year old has vowed to work to heal a divided society.

 

Ms Park returned to the presidential palace in Seoul where she had served as her father’s first lady in the 1970s, after her mother was assassinated by a North Korean-backed gunman.

 

Ms Park says she will negotiate with North Korea’s new young leader, but wants the North to give up its nuclear weapons program as a precondition for aid, something Pyongyang has so far refused to do.

 

The Republic of Korea’s relationship with its northern neighbour is largely facilitated by South Korea’s Unification Ministry.

 

It collates and analyses information about the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, organises official exchanges and other cooperative programs involving trade and investment, as well as managing humanitarian assistance programs to North Korea.

 

The Ministry is also responsible for South Korea’s involvement in international multilateral fora, such as the Six-Party talks, and manages all dialogue between the two Koreas.

 

It also coordinates the resettlement program for North Korean refugees in South Korea – around 23,000 of them over the past two decades.

 

South Korea’s primary concern remains North Korea’s nuclear ambitions, but of late tensions increased after several key incidents seen by South Korea as provocative in the extreme.

 

The first was the fatal shooting of a South Korean tourist after the 53 year-old woman wandered into a military area at a Kumgang mountain resort in North Korea in 2008.

 

Then in 2010, the navy ship Cheonan was sunk, later blamed by a South Korean-led team of international researchers on a torpedo fired from a North Korean midget submarine.

 

And later that same year, North Korea fired artillery and rocket shells at Yeonpyeong island after a South Korean artillery exercise in nearby waters, striking civilian homes, killing four South Koreans and injuring 19 others.

 

The effect on inter-Korean dialogue was profound.

 

(under translation) “After all these happenings from North Korea, we stopped all dialogue between the two and there is no channel now to make conversation and no exchanges at all.”

 

A Ministry of Unification official says a shift in policy was needed.

 

“This is the baggage from the period before then, that the generation caught up in the Cold War period had very strong anti-Communist education and we needed to bring the pendulum back to the other side. But we probably went too far during the Sunshine Policy. At that time we emphasised coexistence, cooperation and mutual trust but despite all those efforts, North Koreans kept developing their nuclear capabilities – and they’ve never changed.”

 

A senior Ministry offical says now the government’s priorities are: maintaining peace and stability on the peninsula, normalising relations with North Korea, and making substantive progress towards unification.

 

He says they’re doing this in several ways:

 

“Helping North Korea to settle down, help them come through these political difficulties from the power transition, economic difficulties [resulting in] starvation and so forth. And again emphasising making the young generation develop a desire for national unification in the future.”

 

The Ministry acknowledges that any public education campaign that aims to achieve the last part of the program will have to be pretty good.

 

[under translation] “Young people in Korea are not really interested in political issues other than unification. They are more interested in lifestyle – comfortable lives, nice houses and cars, convenient IT and technology. My generation is the first generation of a divided Korea. Understanding the need for unification is hard for Korean youngsters.”

 

One young Korean agrees.

 

“We don’t even talk about it! Just sometimes we make a joke about it.”

 

Jinah Kwon says North Korea only occupies a small part in the back of most young people’s minds, to be taken out and examined from time to time – as happened in 2010.

 

“When we had the Yeonpyeong island thing and the Cheonan warship, I was so worried so I sent messages to my friends and all their reactions were, ‘well it always happens like that and there won’t be anything more happening.’ I was working later as a researcher and having lunch with my colleagues and then we saw the television, it was the death of Kim Jong-il. I was so shocked and I was worried maybe something might happen to South Korea but my colleagues around me said ‘Oh, he died’, and they didn’t even pay attention – they weren’t really worried at all, yeah.”

 

But in her experience, the most interest in North Korea is coming from young, Christian South Koreans.

 

“For myself, I am involved in a prayer group at my church. We meet once a week and we pray for North Korea, for the people there. And then we study about North Korea – read a book, discuss it. Then we decide the direction of the prayer – how we should pray.”

 

After analysing the unification of Germany, Korea’s government says being better prepared can lessen the pain for both sides.

 

But absorbing North Korea’s largely impoverished population of around 24 million will be costly.

 

The Ministry has decided to resource unification initially from public fundraising, following the success of its public fundraising efforts in 2001 when the country repaid the I-M-F debt it incurred during the Asian economic crisis.

 

(under translation) “In Korea during the time of the IMF loan, we were having a really hard time. But the general public and Korean citizens voluntarily gave their gold and jewellery and things to the government to resolve the IMF problem at the time, so now we are planning to do that kind of public participation [again].”

 

Diplomatic and possible fundraising efforts are also extending to international stakeholders, with South Korea keen to explain that a unified and peaceful Korean peninsula would serve the interest of all.

 

Meanwhile, North Korea may also be tentatively reaching outwards again.

 

Foreign Minister Bob Carr has confirmed that the North Korean government is seeking to re-open its diplomatic mission in Canberra.

 

The embassy was closed in January 2008, apparently because of financial pressures.

 

Mr Carr hasn’t confirmed Australian approval for the move, but says it could help the federal government voice its human rights concerns to North Korea.

 

“A North Korean embassy in Canberra would enable us to register our deep and our strong concerns about the human rights crisis in North Korea, which is probably the most systemic abuse of human rights you could find on the planet.”

 

(Incidental sound effects courtesy of Chongdong Theatre’s musical “Miso”)

 

And World News Australia Radio will be broadcasting a special program-length feature on Thursday July 25, at 6.10 am and 6.10 pm, to mark the 60th anniversary of the signing of the Armistice that ended hostilities on the Korean peninsula.