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By HYUNG-JIN KIM, Associated Press

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — South Korean police said Tuesday that they’ve summoned two activists accused of raising tensions with North Korea by sending propaganda balloons or plastic bottles filled with rice across the border.

Park Sang-hak, a North Korean refugee who has floated anti-Pyongyang leaflets by balloon across the land border, and his brother Park Jung-oh, who has floated plastic bottles filled with rice across the sea boundary, were being questioned at the Seoul Metropolitan Police Agency, an agency officer with direct knowledge of the cases said.

The officer spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to release the information to the media.

Police raided the offices of the Park brothers last week and confiscated leaflets, account books, mobile phone data, computer files and other materials related to their activities.

The officer said further investigation was needed before determining whether the brothers should be charged with a crime.

North Korea raised Park Sang-hak’s yearslong propaganda campaign and South Korea's failure to prevent it earlier this month before it blew up an empty liaison office on the North’s territory and threatened other provocative steps.

South Korean officials later requested police investigate the Parks and other activists for raising tensions and potentially endangering residents living near the border.

Authorities in one province that borders North Korea have also accused several activist groups, including those of the Parks, of fraud, embezzlement and other charges over their donation activities.

The moves against the activists have invited criticism that President Moon Jae-in's liberal government is sacrificing democratic principles to try to repair deteriorating ties with North Korea.

After his office was raided Friday, Park Sang-hak told reporters that he would keep sending leaflets toward North Korea to inform people there about their authoritarian government. He also accused the South Korean government of “gagging its people and destroying freedom of speech after succumbing” to North Korea.

Tensions eased slightly last week when North Korea announced it would put off planned steps to nullify reconciliation deals it previously reached with South Korea.

Some experts say North Korea has been intentionally raising tensions as part of a strategy to wrest outside concessions at at time when it is facing worsening economic troubles caused by U.S.-led sanctions and the coronavirus pandemic.

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Republicans critical of law enforcement after activists topple Minnesotas Columbus statue

A rehashing of the demonstrations that toppled the Christopher Columbus statue at the Minnesota Capitol and the law enforcement reaction that failed to prevent the removal drew sharp condemnation from Minnesota Senate Republicans Wednesday

A joint Senate committee weighed the removal in the latest hearing in a series of discussions aimed at reviewing the impact of civil unrest in Minneapolis and St. Paul following the death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police.

The discussion echoes a national dialogue about racial equity and whether monuments honoring slave owners or historical figures with a record of racism should continue to stand. President Donald Trump and Republicans have sought to defend the monuments as part of the country’s history. Opponents, meanwhile, have said the nation can’t have a meaningful discussion while the monuments stand or remain without additional context.

Law enforcement officers who responded to the pulling down of the statue on June 10 said they initially sent a tribal liaison to speak with demonstrators about legal procedures to request the statue’s removal. And they had prepared to deploy armored troopers if the situation warranted it.

But a faulty timeline for the statue’s teardown resulted in slow response, Minnesota State Patrol Colonel Matt Langer said. Langer said troopers saw social media posts that indicated demonstrators would arrive later than they did that day and they expected the statue would take longer to pull down than it did.

Facing those expedited events, Langer said troopers weighed the safety of demonstrators and law enforcement officers before responding. He said they avoided using force or chemical agents since children and protesters were present and they determined not making an immediate arrest at the scene could limit tensions between demonstrators and troopers.

“I’m not suggesting this was flawless or a victory for our organization or for the state of Minnesota, but in the end, the statue came down illegally, nobody was hurt, we know who did it and we have the statue,” Langer said.

Columbus, who is often said to have “discovered” the Americas, brutalized the Indigenous people upon his arrival and sold Native people, including children, into slavery. The statue sustained about $154,000 in damage, state officials said, and anyone found guilty after investigation and prosecution could face 10 years in prison and a $10,000 fine.

Republicans on the panel questioned Langer and Department of Public Safety Commissioner John Harrington about the the statue’s toppling and said more should’ve been done.

“People in my district watched what went on and are frustrated, furious, mad, angry to watch what happened on our Capitol grounds that day,” Sen. John Jasinski, R-Faribault, said. “(There was) $153,000 in damage in front of all the news channels and no arrests were made.”

Langer and Harrington defended the state’s response and acknowledged the situation wasn’t handled perfectly.

“We chose discretion, and for that, we can be accused of many different things,” Langer said. He noted in response to senators’ questions that no one had asked the troopers to stand down.

Harrington told lawmakers that neither he nor the Walz administration issued any order for troopers to stand down in the face of demonstrators.

Langer and Harrington said the Department of Public Safety and State Patrol would run a follow-up review of their actions and aim to prepare based on that for similar situations that could emerge in the future.

Democrats on the panel said the Senate should place the same amount of time and importance it dedicated to a statue to reviewing and responding to Floyd’s killing at the hands of Minneapolis police.

“Back on Memorial Day, someone was killed. It wasn’t a statue that wasn’t breathing. Let’s spend that much time that we spend today talking about that incident and why it happened and the consequences that led to it and the tragic result,” Sen. Melisa Franzen, D-Edina, said. “We have to have rule of law, no one’s questioning that, there’s a process, but we also have to go back and talk about the root of the problem.”

Republicans on the panel said allowing the toppling without interference or arrests  could inspire others to unlawfully remove statues or monuments elsewhere.

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“Tolerance of lawless behavior begets more lawless behavior, and I think we’ve been witnessing that,” Sen. David Osmek, R-Mound, said.

Other GOP lawmakers said the statue should be repaired and placed back on its pedestal at the Capitol as the state’s Capitol Area Architectural and Planning (CAAP) Board sets a review process for taking down statues.

Lawmakers are expected to return to the Capitol Monday, July 13, for a special legislative session.

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