The year 2013 started with a new government as President Park Geun-hye came into office after a controversial election. Scandals overshadowed the early part of her tenure, from a debacle in appointing key government ministers to the firing of her spokesman during a trip to the U.S. Inter-Korean relations remained icy after her inauguration, and it is getting even more difficult to assess what the North is up to after the recent execution of leader Kim Jong-un's uncle Jang Song-tak.
In business, only Samsung Electronics managed to rake in massive profits as the global recession dragged on. But Koreans took some comfort from the performance of sporting stars on the international stage.
◆ Kim Jong-un Executes His Uncle
North Korean leader Kim Jong-un ordered the arrest and execution of his powerful uncle Jang Song-taek on Dec. 12 following a military trial on charges of plotting subversion. The execution came as Kim marked his second year at the helm of the repressive regime.
Since Jang's ouster, Kim has consolidated his grip on power and ratcheted up threats against South Korea.
Jang's execution gave the outside world a glimpse of the brutality of the North Korean regime. It was also a somber reminder of just how unstable the North Korean regime is.
◆ Lawmaker Arrested for Plotting Rebellion
Lawmaker Lee Seok-ki of the United Progressive Party stands accused of plotting with around 100 other members of the hard-left party at a meeting in Seoul on May 12 to sabotage key installations of the country should war break out with North Korea. After a tip-off from the National Intelligence Service, prosecutors arrested seven lawmakers including Lee on charges of forming an underground cell to plot a rebellion.
This is the first time an incumbent lawmaker has been arrested on such charges. The Justice Ministry has sought the decision of the Constitutional Court to determine whether it is possible to disband the UPP.
◆ NIS Accused of Meddling in Presidential Election
The National Intelligence Agency is accused of meddling in the 2013 presidential election by directing its agents to post comments online intended to sway the election in favor of Park Geun-hye, who ended up winning by a small majority.
Opposition parties accuse the government of election fraud, while the ruling party says the opposition is refusing to accept their defeat.
An investigation of former NIS director Won Sei-hoon exposed a rift within the prosecution between supporters and opponents of Park. Won is on trial, but the opposition has been demanding the appointment of a special prosecutor to handle the case.
◆ Presidential Spokesman Sacked for Sexual Harassment
Presidential spokesman Yoon Chang-jung was sacked for molesting an intern at the Korean Embassy in Washington D.C. while accompanying President Park Geun-hye on her first official trip to the U.S. in May.
Yoon's abrupt dismissal had huge repercussions, since he was the first official Park hand-picked for her administration after he served as her chief spokesman as president-elect.
Earlier, Park's choices as prime minister, science minister and defense minister stepped down after being accused during the vetting process of various misdeeds.
The incidents cast doubt on Park's ability to choose officials wisely, and she also drew criticism for keeping the media largely in the dark about her selection criteria.
◆ Asiana Plane Crashes in San Francisco
Asiana Airlines flight 214 carrying 219 passengers and 16 crew crashed at San Francisco International Airport in July. The accident killed three Chinese schoolgirls who were on their way to English camp in the American city. The investigation is still underway five months later but pilot error is emerging as a probable cause.
◆ Samsung's Quarterly Operating Profit Exceeds W10 Trillion
Samsung Electronics posted an operating profit of more than W10 trillion during the third quarter, the first Korean company to achieve the feat.
Only four companies in the world achieve quarterly operating profits of more than W10 trillion -- Exxon Mobil and Apple of the U.S., Gazprom of Russia and the Industrial and Commercial Bank of China.
But most other Korean businesses saw profits dwindle. Samsung accounted for a whopping 67 percent of the total operating profit achieved by the top 10 biggest companies in Korea in the third quarter.
◆ Korean Athletes Excel Overseas
Korean athletes excelled overseas this year. L.A. Dodgers pitcher Ryu Hyun-jin achieved 14 wins during his debut season in the U.S. Major League. In the U.S. LPGA, Park In-bee pulled off three straight major titles, the best record in 63 years at the LPGA. Park also won the LPGA's Player of the Year Award for this year, the first Korean to do so.