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South Korean Civilians Killed in Shelling; New Zealand Miners Presumed Dead

South Korean officials have reported that the bodies of two civilians have been discovered on Yeonpyeong Island, the site of Tuesday’s artillery attack by North Korea. Two marines were also killed in the almost hour-long shelling of the island, and at least 19 were wounded.

This development is raising questions about the potential for further escalation of hostilities on the Korean Peninsula.

President Obama spoke with South Korean President Lee Myung-bak Tuesday night and agreed to hold joint military exercises to underscore the strong alliance between the two countries. The United States has 28,000 troops stationed in South Korea.

The incident highlights a difficult position for the Obama administration, which has reiterated its commitment to defending South Korea but faces a delicate balance between escalation and appearing to cave to North Korea’s recent actions, including the sinking of a South Korean warship in March that killed 46 sailors and the discovery of a new nuclear facility.

New Zealand Miners Declared Dead After Second Blast

Twenty-nine men trapped in a mine blast last week are now presumed to be dead after a massive second blast in the Pike River Mine. Rescuers had not been able to make contact with the men after the initial blast, but there had been hope of finding them alive. High levels of methane gas had prevented crews from entering the mine sooner.

New Zealand Prime Minister John Key called the loss of life an “agonizing blow” and called for an investigation into what caused the explosion.

Car Bomb Kills 17 in Yemen

A blast in northern Yemen killed 17 people during a procession of Shiite Houthis to commemorate al-Ghadeer, a major Shiite holiday. The group has at times been involved in an uprising against the government. An al-Qaida group in Yemen has staged bold attacks across the country, but there has not yet been official confirmation of the bomber’s identity.

Deadline for Gulf Oil Spill Payments

Wednesday is the deadline for victims of the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico to apply for compensation from a $20 billion fund established to help those affected by the disaster. About $2 billion has been dispersed thus far, but there is criticism that the process is uneven and too slow. The fund is run by Washington lawyer Kenneth Feinberg, who said the payments are likely to be higher than what could be obtained by going to court.

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