South Korea’s Defense Minister Resigns After Attack
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HARI SREENIVASAN: South Korea’s defense minister resigned today in the wake of a recent North Korean artillery attack. Tuesday’s barrage targeted a small South Korean island near the country’s disputed maritime border. Two South Korean marines and two civilians died.
We have a report from John Irvine of Independent Television News.
JOHN IRVINE: In a disputed part of the Yellow Sea sits the disputed of Yeonpyeong, a place where the Cold War isn’t history, but daily reality, a place where, right now, South Korea is licking its wounds.
The main village here is largely deserted, abandoned by frightened people who 48 hours ago, find themselves in a battleground as dozens of artillery shells landed all around. Several homes and other buildings have been gutted.
In one cafe, we saw cups of tea left behind by villagers who had bolted into shelters. The bodies of two civilians found in the rubble here were taken off the island this morning.
The barrage was fired from over there. That’s North Korea, just seven miles away from the island.
When you see the damage wrought here, it’s easy to realize why South Korea is so reluctant to escalate things. After all, North Korea has far more artillery pieces trained on the massive city of Seoul than it does on this small island.
The South Koreans are scratching their heads. The defense minister has had to resign for doing too little.
The government has announced a strengthening of the already formidable garrison on the island. The rules of engagement are also to change, with the South no longer limiting itself to a proportionate response to northern aggression.
HARI SREENIVASAN: Both South Korea and the U.S. are planning military drills Sunday in the waters south of this week’s attack.
Iraq’s prime minister formally began assembling a new coalition government today at the request of President Jalal Talabani. The move ends eight months of deadlock among the country’s political factions after disputed elections last March. Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, who will remain in his post, now has 30 days to select a new cabinet.
He appealed for unity during a meeting with Iraqi officials in Baghdad.
NOURI AL-MALIKI, prime minister, Iraq (through translator): I call upon all Iraqi people across the whole spectrum — minorities, sects, religions and doctrines — and all politicians to work together and to exceed and overcome all the differences of the past that resulted in previous conflicts and to put all these differences behind us. We have to open a new chapter based on cooperation and understanding, and to work together in building the homeland.
HARI SREENIVASAN: The new power-sharing government is expected to include representatives from all the major political groups, including the Kurds, Shia, and Sunni Arabs.
After selection, the cabinet must be approved by a majority in parliament.
Russia has agreed to let NATO troops take armored vehicles to Afghanistan across its soil. The Russian foreign minister announced the deal. The northern supply route will decrease reliance on routes through Pakistan which have been volatile in recent months. It’s all part of the thawing relationship between Russia and NATO, which includes combating the spread of drugs across Central Asia from Afghanistan and participating in a European missile defense shield.
More Mexican troops and police are heading to the border zone next to Texas to try and rein in drug violence. Police said the goal is to reinforce government authority where there has been a split in two drug gangs leading to a surge in violence. The new effort also aims to keep the two cartels from regrouping after some of their key leaders were killed or captured.
Those are some of the day’s major stories.