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LA’s Koreatown Reacts to Nuclear Test

October 10, 2006

LOS ANGELES (AP) _ In cafes, restaurants and barbershops across the city’s vast Koreatown, the conversations Monday centered on one topic _ North Korea’s claimed nuclear test and what will happen next.

Reactions in the United States’ largest Korean immigrant community ranged from frustration at America’s inability to keep the communist regime from going nuclear to worry about what it could mean for relatives back home.

``Is everybody going crazy?″ said Joseph Kuo, 30, who immigrated 15 years ago and runs a restaurant in Koreatown. ``The war in Iraq was enough, and now who knows what the United States will do to North Korea.″

Nearly 200,000 Koreans live in Los Angeles, according to the U.S. Census, by far the largest grouping of America’s estimated 1.2 million Korean immigrants. And most stay intimately connected to their homeland.

As people went about their daily routines in this city enclave where signs are in Korean and English is rarely heard, televisions beamed images of North Korean leader Kim Jong Il and of exploding atomic bombs.

Local Korean newspapers blared the news with front page headlines reading, ``Korean-Americans Are Shocked,″ ``North Korea Actually Tests Nuclear Weapon,″ and ``Korean Peninsula Quickly Freezing and the Future is Uncertain.″

``This makes you feel scared,″ said Mingee Park, 18, eating and talking about the nuclear test with three friends.

Park, who moved here from South Korea five months ago to study at a community college, said the possibility of nuclear war made him see his home country’s mandatory 2-year military service as more than just a rite of passage for young men.

``It’s something all men have to do, but I’m worried about doing it now,″ said Park, who planned to do his service when he turns 21.

Others were sharply critical of President Bush, arguing his administration could have kept North Korea from going nuclear by engaging the country instead of implementing economic sanctions.

``If the U.S. had better diplomacy, instead of always just threatening, we could have been looking at a much better situation,″ said Jiwon Hong, 27, a community activist whose family immigrated when she was 9. ``Maybe North Korea felt it was the last button they had left to push.″

North Korea pulled out of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty in 2003 after U.S. officials accused it of a secret nuclear program.

U.S. Ambassador John Bolton said Washington would now seek even stiffer U.N. sanctions against North Korea.

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