South Korean Soldiers Protest Amid Growing Tensions With North
One group of protesters gathered near the defense ministry building Saturday. The crowd clashed with police officers, some charging and kicking officers.The protests come as tensions between the Koreas are growing. On Tuesday, North Korea shelled South Korea’s Yeonpyeong Island, killing four South Koreans and wounding 15 others. North Korea said the South provoked the attack because shells from a South Korean military drill landed in the North’s waters. South Korea was holding its annual Hoguk military drill when the North started its shelling.
The United States is sending the aircraft carrier USS George Washington to join South Korea’s forces near the coasts of China and North Korea in a four-day Cmdr. Jeff Davis, public affairs officer for the U.S. 7th Fleet, told CNN Saturday that the military drills will begin around noon Sunday. There will be no live firing element in the drills; live firing exercises can only take place in a designated training range or in a closed off area at sea, Davis said, and such firing exercises are not possible given the amount of traffic in the area.
The drills will include anti-air attack and anti-surface attack exercises, communications and data drills, expert exchanges, logistical support and replenishment drills. For example, a Korean oil tanker will refuel a U.S. ship, Davis said. On Friday, China appeared to criticize the U.S.-South Korean military exercise. “We oppose any party to take any military acts in our exclusive economic zone without permission,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said in a statement, according to the state-run Xinhua News Agency.Xinhua quoted Chinese scholars who also criticized the planned drill by U.S. and South Korean (Republic of Korea) forces.
He likened the planned exercise to “pouring oil onto flames.”
But China, North Korea’s largest trading partner, also called for an easing of tensions. “As the Korean Peninsula situation is highly complicated and sensitive, all parties concerned should stay calm and exercise restraint,” Hong said.
The United States has described the drill as defensive in nature. The exercises were planned months ago, and are meant to underscore strong ties between South Korea and the United States, defense officials from both countries have said.
On Friday, South Korea named a new defense minister to replace the official who resigned Thursday amid criticism due to North Korea’s sinking of a warship in March and Tuesday’s deadly shelling of South Korea’s Yeonpyeong Island.North Korea has denied involvement in the sinking.
South Korea’s government nominated Kim Kwan-jin as defense minister, a Blue House media official told CNN.
South Korean President Lee Myung-bak drew criticism for his initial statements after the Yeonpyeong bombardment, when he asked for a stern response but also called for de-escalatory measures to be taken. Later that day, Lee spoke to the military and urged heavy retaliation.The Yeonpyeong attack was the first direct artillery assault on South Korea since 1953, when an armistice ended fighting, though both Koreas are still technically at war.