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S. Koreans shocked by North's attack, some call for retaliation

All Headlines 15:42 November 24, 2010

By Kim Eun-jung

SEOUL, Nov. 23 (Yonhap) - North Korea's deadly artillery attack on a front-line island Tuesday left South Koreans in shock and fear of further provocations, also angering some who are demanding immediate retribution against the belligerent communist state.

Even in a country that has experienced the tragedy of the 1950-53 Korean War and runs a mandatory draft system for all able-bodied men to confront North Korea's 1.2 million-strong army, Tuesday's daylight attack was beyond their realm of possibilities.

The North poured some 170 rounds of artillery shells near Yeonpyeong Island, about 80 of which hit land and killed two marines stationed on the island and injured scores of others, including civilians. Pyongyang's provocations had so far been limited to maritime skirmishes or gunfights across the heavily fortified border.

"I'm very worried. My grandsons are still serving in the military with only a few months left. I think the North Korean regime is making the attack as its last resort as its people are starving," said 77-year-old Lee Jeong-im. "I still have memories of people fleeing from Seoul when the Korean War broke out sixty years ago. But this time, I don't expect that much chaos would happen here."

Although enraged, citizens who said they wanted retaliation against the North still feared the possibility of the clash expanding into a full-scale war that could wreck the bustling capital Seoul, less than 50 kilometers from the border.

"Looking at the real time TV news, I get very nervous and angry. I want retaliation, but I don't want a war because it will ruin everything here," Lee Yong-sook, 54, said.

But some wanted immediate retribution, accusing the Lee Myung-bak administration of having been too timid in its response to the March sinking of the Cheonan warship that they say gave Pyongyang the wrong message. An international investigation concluded that a North Korea torpedo attacked the warship and killed 46 sailors, but Seoul did not take any military action against the North. Pyongyang denies its involvement in the incident.

"It is time to take a strong action to show what price Pyongyang has to pay if it attacks South Korean territory and its people," Cho Jin-hyeong, 72, a magazine publisher, said. "We have to learn from history. The North Korean regime has never been reasonable and it has acted like a gangster. We have to do the same as they have done to us, so that North Korea will not dare attack us in the future."

Soldiers expressed their condolences to the two servicemen who were killed in Tuesday's attack. In South Korea, all able-bodied men must serve for at least two years in the country's 655,000-member military.

"I feel very sorry that the two marines died in yesterday's attack. I hope this incident does not develop into an extreme one that sacrifices more people," a 22-year-old sergeant, who would only give his last name, Ku, said. He was in Seoul on temporary vacation from his military duty in northern Gyeonggi Province near the demilitarized zone.

Foreigners in South Korea expressed concerns about worsening inter-Korean relations, while paying close attention to its aftermath in the financial market.

"Yesterday, we were shocked and afraid that Korea may start a war. My family called me and said 'Come back to Iran if a war breaks out,'" Afshin Fekrigard, 38, a textile trader from Iran, said. "As a businessman, I have more interests in the financial market, such as currency rates and stock prices."

On Wednesday, civic groups unanimously condemned the North's indiscriminate attack but were mixed in their approaches to the issue.

Conservative groups called on the Lee administration to take immediate action against the North.

"We strongly denounce North Korea's military provocation against the people and territory of the Republic of Korea," Citizens United for a Better Society said in a statement, referring to South Korea by its official name. "Following the naval skirmishes in the Yellow Sea and the Cheonan incident, North Korea has fired coastal artillery onto a peaceful town where civilians live. This time, the government should take strong action to protect the people and the country's territory."

Liberal groups tried to simmer out the heightened tension, wary about the possibility of the clash developing into a war.

"We oppose military provocation that raises tension on the Korean Peninsula," said Korea Reunification Society, a civic group affiliated with Citizens' Coalition for Economic Justice. "It is important that the South Korean government prevent further military conflicts and North Korea stops military provocations that raise tension here."


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