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Conservatives angry over Cheong Wa Dae, military's reaction to N. Korean attack

All Headlines 17:07 November 24, 2010

SEOUL, Nov. 24 (Yonhap) -- The presidential office and the military came under fire Wednesday as conservative parties fumed over how they responded to North Korea's deadly artillery attack, charging they acted too lame and too late.

The South struck back 13 minutes after the North fired its first artillery shell toward Yeonpyeong Island on Tuesday afternoon. The ruling Grand National Party (GNP) and right-wing minor opposition parties argued that the retaliation should have been faster and questioned the military's ability to deal with the communist North Korea.

"What did our military do during the one hour after the start of the North Korean attack?" Rep. Song Kwang-ho of the GNP asked at a party meeting. "For even one shell flying here from North Korea, we have to mobilize our entire arms and crush them to ashes."

Another GNP lawmaker, Kim Dong-sung, called for an investigation into whether there was military negligence in the early hours after the attack.

"The military has said it can retaliate in just four minutes. It should be investigated why the counteraction was so late," he said.

Briefing lawmakers of the National Assembly defense committee, Defense Minister Kim Tae-young said the military response was prompt, given the time needed to change the direction of artillery and prepare to fire.

Conservatives also mounted criticism against the presidential office over its measured response at the onset of the clash. As North Korean shells dropped on Yeonpyeong Island, Cheong Wa Dae announced President Lee Myung-bak's directive to manage the situation "so that it would not escalate" into a bigger clash.

Hours later, Lee again ordered the military to "strike back multiple-fold" force should the North continue provocation.

The clash was one of the deadliest since the three-year Korean War ended in 1953. Two marines and two civilians were killed in the exchange of fire that lasted for about an hour on Tuesday.

Rep. Hong Sa-duk of the GNP argued that the president was overly cautious when stronger retaliations were necessary to protect the nation. Presidential aides should be fired to take responsibility, Hong said.

"The presidential aides who misled the president at the onset of the incident should be 'cleaned up.' Only by doing so can the recurrence of a similar situation be prevented," the six-term lawmaker said in a meeting of GNP senior members.

Rep. Lee Hoi-chang, chairman of the minor opposition Liberty Forward Party, argued that the presidential office "served the benefit of the enemy at a time when it had to crush the attackers."

As the criticism mounted through Wednesday morning, the presidential office Cheong Wa Dae explained that the initial remarks were erroneously attributed to the president and were actually made by presidential aides during discussions.

"The remarks were never made by President Lee," presidential spokesman Hong Sang-pyo told reporters.

hkim@yna.co.kr
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