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News Wrap: North Korean Artillery Exercises Raise Concerns in South

November 26, 2010 at 4:21 PM EST
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HARI SREENIVASAN: New rounds of artillery fire rang out inside North Korea today, but none reached the South. At the same time, North Korean state media warned, U.S. and South Korean plans for joint military exercises are pushing the region to the brink of war.

We have a report from John Sparks of Independent Television News.

JOHN SPARKS: America’s top general in the region had come to Yeonpyeong Island to see and be seen. In full military fatigues, General Walter Sharp made his inspection, three days after the North Korean bombardment. Their long-distance guns took the lives of four and leveled many of the island’s buildings.

GEN. WALTER SHARP, U.S. Military commander, South Korea: We and United Nations command will investigate this completely, and call on North Korea to stop any future attacks.

JOHN SPARKS: His investigation was brief. The North Koreans are in breach of a peace treaty signed 57 years ago, he said.

GEN. WALTER SHARP: Clear violation of the armistice agreement.

JOHN SPARKS: It was exactly what his South Korean hosts wanted to hear. Yet, their enemy to the north wouldn’t be silenced. A few minutes after the general’s departure, North Korea fired several rounds from an artillery gun.

A few puffs of smoke were seen on the horizon. It was enough to send South Korean troops scrambling back into position. The attack on Yeonpyeong Island has unsettled many here in the South. North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong Il, is certainly enemy number one, but these protesters in Seoul are also frustrated with their own political leaders, who they accuse of weakness.

That view is shared by many North Koreans who have escaped to South Korea. We met one such defector called Kim Young-il this morning. He’s now got a job in Seoul, but, a few years ago, he didn’t have enough to eat. He says North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong Il, and his son and likely successor, Kim Jong-un, are influenced by and dependent on the military. And the South Koreans must risk an escalation of hostilities and respond more forcefully, he says.

KIM YOUNG-IL, defector, North Korea (through translator): The South Korean president was hesitant. And it makes people anxious. It doesn’t make any sense. They’re letting North Korea get away with it again.

JOHN SPARKS: Temporary shrines have been set up honoring the South Korean servicemen who lost their lives on the island, and many worry there could be more when the military holds joint exercises with the Americans in two days’ time.

HARI SREENIVASAN: A Pentagon spokesman today defended the upcoming exercises against criticism from China, saying they are aimed at deterring North Korea.

The Portuguese Parliament approved its budget for next year with a host of tough spending cuts. Portugal is trying to avoid a bailout from the European Union, like the ones Greece and Ireland have already accepted. Portugal’s deficit reached 9.3 percent last year, the fourth highest of the Eurozone nations.

After today’s vote, Prime Minister Jose Socrates said Portugal had no choice but to tighten its belt.

JOSE SOCRATES, prime minister, Portugal (through translator): There is no room to take measures that aren’t tough. Politicians that only have the best interests of the country at heart should understand that these measures are

absolutely necessary. Of course, some politicians only think of their own interests and the interests of their parties, but this is not the moment to think about that. This is the moment to think about the country. This budget defends our country.

HARI SREENIVASAN: Banks in Ireland were hit with downgrades today, one all the way to junk bond status. Standard & Poor’s’ credit ratings agency lowered their status in the wake of the $113 billion rescue by the E.U. and the International Monetary Fund.

Scientists estimate more than 600,000 people worldwide are killed by secondhand smoking every year. That’s according to the first ever study looking at the impact across 192 countries. It was published in the British medical journal “Lancet.” The numbers include deaths from heart and respiratory diseases and lung cancer. The study found that the highest numbers of people exposed to secondhand smoke are in Europe and Asia.

Three teenage boys who survived 50 days lost in the South Pacific on a small aluminum boat returned home today. The trio arrived undernourished, severely dehydrated, and badly sunburned. They told rescuers they stayed alive by drinking rainwater and eating coconuts, raw fish, and a seagull. The teenagers set off from their home island north of Samoa on October 5. A fishing trawler rescued them Wednesday hundreds of miles away.

President Obama was injured during a pickup basketball game today. He received 12 stitches in his lip after an opposing player accidentally elbowed him in the face. The president was seen leaving Fort McNair dabbing his lip with gauze. He had been playing at the military post in Washington with friends and family.

Late today, the White House identified the person who hit the president as Rey Decerega, who works for the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute.

Those are some of the day’s major stories.