Standoff with DPRK tops ROK's political agenda

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Following South Korea's live-fire drill conducted a day ago in defiance of repeated vows of retaliation by the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK), the political scene is sharply divided over whether the drill was a wise move.

South Korea on Monday staged what officials here said was a routine firing drill from the South Korean western border island of Yeonpyeong, shelled last month by the DPRK. Four, including two civilians, were killed in what Seoul and Washington called an " unprovoked" attack on Nov. 23.

Monday's brief one-day drill came amid further heightened tension as Pyongyang, which claims its attack on Yeonpyeong was for "self-defense" against Seoul and Washington then engaged in annual naval exercises near a disputed border, repeatedly warned of retaliation.

And it was not only the government north of the border that had protested the planned exercise.

"The firing drill must be stopped," Chung Dong-young, a member of the supreme council of the main opposition Democratic Party, said Monday in a press conference with foreign correspondents here just as the country pressed ahead with the drill, opposed also by China and Russia.

"We should now pursue dialogue and diplomatic efforts instead of military exercises," said Chung, a former unification minister in the previous liberal administration, urging President Lee Myung- bak, a conservative, to rethink his hard-line policy toward Pyongyang.

The stance, universally echoed by the liberal and left-leaning opposition parties here, soon became a lightning rod for criticism from the governing Grand National Party as the drill was completed apparently without provoking Pyongyang.

Pyongyang did not immediately respond to the shooting exercise conducted near the border it refuses to acknowledge, saying it was "not worth reacting" to what it called "reckless provocations."

The Democrats should apologize for "siding with" the DPRK, the ruling party demanded, branding them "cowards." "It only reminds us that the Democratic Party is pro-North Korean (DPRK)," a party spokeswoman said in a briefing after the drill.

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