South Korea’s defense minister resigned Thursday amid intense criticism two days after a North Korean artillery attack killed four people on a small island near the Koreas’ disputed frontier.
The move came as President Lee Myung-bak vowed to send more troops to the front-line South Korean island and as residents tried to salvage belongings from the blackened wreckage of their homes. Pyongyang warned of additional attacks if provoked.
Hours before Defense Minister Kim Tae-young’s resignation, lawmakers had lashed out at the government, claiming officials were unprepared for Tuesday’s attack and that the military response to the North’s barrage was too slow. Even those in Lee’s ruling party demanded Kim’s dismissal as well as those of military leaders and some presidential aides.
Lee accepted Kim’s resignation and a new defense chief will be announced Friday, presidential chief of staff Yim Tae-hee said.
Skirmishes between the Korean militaries are not uncommon, but North Korea’s heavy bombardment of Yeonpyeong Island was the first on a civilian area, raising fears of an escalation that could lead to a new war on the Korean peninsula. South Korean troops had returned fire and scrambled fighter jets in response.
Seoul and Washington ratcheted up pressure on China to rein in its ally North Korea, and China on Thursday urged both sides to show restraint.
Reporters allowed for the first time onto the island found streets strewn with broken glass and charred debris. Blackened beer bottles lay beside what was left of a supermarket as coast guard officers patrolled in pairs past deserted offices and schools used by relief workers for meetings and meals.
(Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)
APNT 11-25-10 0914EST