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At Koreas summit, symbolism is cunningly crafted into everything - even furniture

A closer look at the day's most notable stories with The National's Jonathon Gatehouse.

Newsletter: A closer look at the day's most notable stories

A woman walks past a screen showing South Korean President Moon Jae-in, left, and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, at a railway station in Seoul. The two leaders will meet on Friday for a historic summit, the highest-level encounter yet in a recent whirlwind of nuclear diplomacy. (Jung Yeon-Je/AFP/Getty Images)

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  • North and South Korea have choreographed Friday's summit down to the tiniest details, building symbolism into even the width of the meeting table
  • Russian government is angrily denouncing an American incursion into its shuttered Seattle consulate
  • Police in Sacramento, Calif., say they have caught a notorious serial killer responsible for a string of murders and rapes dating back to the mid 1970s — and the accused is one of their own
  • Missed The National last night? Watch it here

Remodelling for peace

The historic summit between South Korean President Moon Jae-in and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un won't fail for lack of planning.

The two sides have choreographed the big event down to the tiniest details, staging several dress rehearsals this week to make sure that the cameras and lights are in exactly the right — and most flattering — position to capture the moment when Kim steps across the low concrete curb that marks the border inside the truce village of Panmunjom.

The two Koreas are still technically at war, as a peace treaty has never been signed. They have held more than 650 face-to-face meetings since the early 1970s, more than half of them in the United Nations-administered demilitarized zone.

Media cameras film the Peace House at the truce village of Panmunjom inside the demilitarized zone separating the two Koreas. Technicians have done dress rehearsals this week to make sure their cameras will get clear shots of the two leaders entering the building on Friday. (Kim Hong-Ji/Reuters)
But tonight will mark the first time Kim has ever visited the South, and the Moon government is pulling out all the stops to make a favourable impression.

For the past two weeks, construction crews have been working day and night to spruce up Peace House, the venue for the high-level talks. The three-storey, grey granite structure, located 130 metres from the border, was built in 1989 for just such a purpose, but has sat mostly empty over the past decade of tense relations.

"It's not a large-scale project," a senior official from the South Korean president's office told local media earlier this month. "We're just trying to make it look more stylish."

The old, blue vinyl cladding at the building's entrance has been removed. The wallpaper has been updated, new red carpeting installed, and everything has been given a fresh coat of paint. The communications and security systems have been upgraded, and there's a new "situation room" on the third floor, next to the dining room.

The Inter Korean Summit meeting room at the Peace House, seen Wednesday, has been given an extensive makeover. (Getty Images)
Most of the attention has been lavished on the second-floor room where Moon and Kim will meet, live on television. The old separate entrances at the two sides of the room have been replaced by a single one.

There's a new oval table in place of the previous rectangular one, curved like a bridge to evoke coming together of the two Koreas. The table measures exactly 2,018 millimeters wide across its centre to commemorate the year.

The chairs in which the two leaders will sit are decorated with a carving of a unified Korean peninsula — including the Dokdo islets, small offshore rocks that are the focus of a long-running territorial dispute with Japan.

Police stand guard Wednesday on the Grand Unification Bridge in Paju, South Korea, which leads to the Peace House. (Kim Hong-Ji/Reuters)
A painting of Jeju Island that used to hang on the wall has been replaced by a seven-metre-long, three-metre-high rendering of Mount Kumgang, just across the border in the north. Tens of thousands of South Koreans used to visit its summit each year — until North Korean border guards shot and killed a 53-year-old tourist in 2008, after she apparently wandered into a restricted area.

The rest of the building's new decor has been based on a hanok, a traditional Korean house with wooden window frames, walnut furniture, and folding screens.

The meal that will follow the talks will also be heavy with symbolism.

Rosti potatoes, to remind Kim of his time at a Swiss boarding school. Grilled John Dory fish, like the kind that Moon ate growing up in the port city of Busan. And a ravioli of sea cucumber, beef and cod — a delicacy from the home region of ex-South Korean President Kim Dae-jung, who travelled to North Korea to meet Kim Jong-il, the current dictator's father.

On of the dishes being served at the Inter Korean Summit is mango mousse, with an image of a united Korean peninsula crafted into it. (Getty Images)
The North Koreans are also bringing along a noodle-making machine to make cold "naengmyeon," a dish made famous by the Okryukwan restaurant in Pyongyang.

What isn't clear is whether the South Koreans have renovated the washrooms.

Perhaps it wasn't necessary, given reports that Kim always travels with his own toilets, and an emergency chamber pot inside his armoured Mercedes.

"The leader's excretions contain information about his health status, so they can't be left behind," Lee Yun-keol, a former bodyguard who defected to the South in 2005, told the Washington Post.

Russia wants its stuff back

The Russian government is angrily denouncing an American incursion into its shuttered Seattle consulate, and demanding that the United States immediately return the building and five other closed diplomatic missions to their control.

"The situation is absolutely outrageous, disgusting and unprecedented. Nothing like this has ever happened in the history of bilateral relations," Maria Zakharova, a spokeswoman for the Russian Foreign Ministry, said today in Moscow.

"We expect that the global community will pay attention to this actual state robbery to which the U.S. authorities have downgraded themselves."

A sign and Russian flag at the residence of the consulate general of Russia at the historic Samuel Hyde House in Seattle, Wash. (Jason Redmond/AFP/Getty Images)
Russia was ordered to vacate the property as part of the Trump administration's expulsion of 60 diplomats following the March nerve agent attack on a former Russian intelligence officer in Salisbury, U.K. The original April 1 deadline was extended until midnight Tuesday.

On Wednesday, security personnel from the U.S. State department broke the latch on the mansion's front gate, then drilled out the door lock and entered the building to conduct what they called a "walk-through inspection."

The property is "no longer authorized for use for any diplomatic or consular purposes and no longer enjoys any privileges or immunities, including inviolability, previously made available to it," a State Department official told ABC News.

A locksmith changes the gate lock at the former residence of the Russian consul general in Seattle on Wednesday. (Jason Redmond/Reuters)
Russia says that the same thing happened following the forced closure of its San Francisco consulate in September 2017. It called both searches "gross violations" of the international laws that govern diplomatic relations.

In addition to the two consulates, the United States has shut down Russian trade missions in Washington and New York City, and seized holiday compounds in Maryland and New York state, following allegations of Kremlin meddling in the 2016 elections.

The Trump administration signalled that it might be ready to return the vacation properties a year ago, but later backed off the plan as Robert Mueller's probe into the president's possible links to Russia intensified.

Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said Thursday that the search of the former Russian consulate by U.S. officials was, 'absolutely outrageous, disgusting and unprecedented.' (Sergei Karpukhin/Reuters)
Last month, Russia's ambassador to the U.S. said he was preparing to launch a lawsuit against the American government over the seizures, on the direct order of Vladimir Putin.  

To date, no such suit has been filed. And it's not clear which court — inside the United States or without — would consider such a claim.

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To catch a killer

Police in Sacramento, Calif., say they have finally caught a notorious serial killer responsible for a string of murders and rapes dating back to the mid 1970s — and the accused is one of their own.

"We found the needle in the haystack," Anne Marie Schubert, the Sacramento County District Attorney, told reporters yesterday.

The April 25 police booking photo of Joseph James DeAngelo, 72. (Sacramento County Sheriff's Department via Getty Images)
Known by four sobriquets — the Golden State Killer, the Original Night Stalker, the Diamond Knot Killer and East Area Rapist — the suspect is believed to be responsible for at least 12 murders, 45 sexual assaults and hundreds of burglaries.

The 10-year, statewide crime wave began in Sacramento in 1976. It moved on to the San Francisco area two years later, then southern California in the early 1980s.

Yesterday morning, police and FBI agents converged on a house in Citrus Heights, 25 kilometres northeast of Sacramento, and arrested Joseph James DeAngelo, a 72-year-old ex-cop. He has been charged with two counts of murder, and is being held on suspicion of at least two more.

Sacramento district attorney Anne Marie Schubert announces the arrest of accused rapist and killer Joseph James DeAngelo during a news conference on Wednesday. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
In 2016 the FBI offered a $50,000 US reward for the capture and conviction of the Golden State Killer, as they tried to raise public interest in the four-decade-old cold cases, noting that they still had DNA evidence from the crime scenes.

"For over 40 years, countless victims have waited for justice," Schubert said at a news conference held outside of her office Wednesday. "The answer has always been in Sacramento."

DeAngelo worked as a police officer in two different area towns, Exeter and Auburn, between 1973 and 1979. He was fired from the Auburn force after he was charged with shoplifting a hammer and a can of dog repellant from a Citrus Heights drug store, the Sacramento Bee reports.

Earlier this week, an Australian newspaper reported that police in Melbourne had been talking with their U.S. counterparts about a series of attack on young girls between 1987 and 1991. The so-called "Mr. Cruel" crimes, which culminated in the murder of 13-year-old Karmein Chan, share certain hallmarks with the Golden State Killer.

Sacramento County Sheriffs deputies search the Citrus Heights, Calif., home of Joseph James DeAngelo. (Rich Pedroncelli/Associated Press)
By certain estimates, as many 2,000 serial killers are currently stalking the United States.

The Murder Accountability Project (MAP), founded by a former White House correspondent, uses data analysis software to comb through America's 800,000 murders since 1965 and identify overlooked patterns and possible links.

"Data between 2000 and 2016 reveals there are 10 times the number of active serial killers than previously estimated by the FBI," Michael Arntfield, a University of Western Ontario criminologist and MAP board member, recently told the CBC. "In larger cities, you've got two and three active at once."

Researchers would like to construct a similar database for Canadian murders, but are encountering resistance from authorities who say they can't make the investigative information public.

Quote of the moment

"By polluting the oceans, not mitigating CO2 emissions and destroying our biodiversity, we are killing our planet. Let us face it: there is no Planet B."

- Emmanuel Macron, in a speech to the U.S. Congress on Wednesday. The French president expressed his belief that America will ultimately rejoin the Paris Agreement and seek to curb greenhouse gases.

French President Emmanuel Macron gestures as he is introduced to a joint meeting of Congress on Capitol Hill in Washington on Wednesday. (Pablo Martinez Monsivais/Associated Press)

What The National is reading

  • Alberta alienation surging, poll suggests (CBC)
  • Iran's Khamenei urges Muslim nations to unite against U.S. (Reuters)
  • Researchers are keeping pig brains alive outside the body (MIT Technology Review)
  • N.L. premier removes cabinet minister amidst bullying allegations (CBC)
  • Lionel Messi wins fight to register himself as a trademark (BBC)
  • Bali struggles to keep the lights lit (Asia Times)
  • Gorillas are far more numerous than thought, survey finds (Guardian)
  • 'Karate Kid' revisited with new YouTube series (New York Times)

Today in history

April 26, 1970: CBC attempts to fulfil its mandate, attract an audience

"Nobody is singing a litany of sorrow about things that can't be done," CBC president George Davidson tells reporter Doug Collins. But he is kind of hot about the intrusion of commercials into TV dramas, and proposed Canadian content rules that will "increase the amount of expenditures" and "reduce, to some extent, the revenues we will receive." The Beachcombers premiered two years later.

In 1970, President George Davidson describes the challenges of running the CBC to reporter Doug Collins. 8:31

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About the Author

Jonathon Gatehouse

CBC Investigative Journalist

Jonathon Gatehouse has covered news and politics at home and abroad, reporting from dozens of countries. He has also written extensively about sports, covering seven Olympic Games and authoring a best-selling book on the business of pro-hockey. He works for the national investigative unit in Toronto.