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South Korea authorizes raid of Shincheonji amid COVID-19 outbreak

South Korean Justice Minister Choo Mi-ae has warned an all-out war might be necessary in containing the outbreak of the new strain of coronavirus originating from China. File Photo by Yonhap
South Korean Justice Minister Choo Mi-ae has warned an "all-out war" might be necessary in containing the outbreak of the new strain of coronavirus originating from China. File Photo by Yonhap

March 4 (UPI) -- South Korea's justice minister signaled support for a government decision to raid the offices of Shincheonji, the secretive religious organization that is being held responsible for the steep rise in the number of coronavirus cases in the country.

Choo Mi-ae, who has been at odds with South Korea's prosecution after replacing top prosecutors investigating corruption scandals, said she approved the decision to search and seize documents from the church, Yonhap reported.

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Shincheonji's branch in the central South Korean city of Daegu has been widely blamed for spreading the disease among its congregants and the city. The group is also accused of not cooperating with authorities. According to local news network MBC on Wednesday, Shincheonji's list of members is still incomplete despite government demands for a full disclosure.

Choo, appointed to office in January, also cited a recent poll to justify the raid.

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During a legislative and judiciary committee meeting at the National Assembly on Wednesday, Choo told South Korean lawmakers a survey from Realmeter and South Korea's CBS indicates 86 percent of South Korean citizens agree Shincheonji's headquarters should be searched and seized.

Choo also said opposition conservatives, long critical of President Moon Jae-in, agree on the need for Shincheonji to cooperate with authorities, and that the lack of legal precedent for the raid is not of concern.

"To conservatively discuss whether or not there has been a precedent is a far too passive policy," she said.

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The justice minister added the raid might not be enough; an "all-out war" may be necessary at this point in time, she said. Some Shincheonji members have reportedly refused to cooperate with mandatory testing.

South Korea has been screening residents across the country. Drive-through testing stations are becoming increasingly common and are free and open to all people, regardless of citizenship.

U.S. Ambassador to Seoul Harry Harris lauded South Korea's response to COVID-19 during a meeting with South Korean diplomat Cho Se-young, according to Newsis. Cases topped 5,600 by Wednesday.

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"We remain confident in the South Korean government's robust and comprehensive response efforts to limit the spread of the virus," Harris said on Twitter on Wednesday.

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