World condemns North Korea's attack on South (WRAPUP 2)

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World powers condemned North Korea's deadly attack on a South Korean island on Tuesday, whilst Pyongyang said it had been responding to Seoul's aggression.

World powers condemned North Korea's deadly attack on a South Korean island on Tuesday, whilst Pyongyang said it had been responding to Seoul's aggression.

North Korea opened artillery fire on the South Korea's Yeonpyeong island in the Yellow Sea, killing two South Korean marines and provoking a retaliatory attack from the South, Seoul's YTN television reported. At least 16 South Korean marines and three civilians were injured.

NATO spokeswoman Carmen Romero said the alliance "strongly condemns the North Korean shelling of a South Korean island and its resulting casualties," and is monitoring the situation on the Korean Peninsula with "deep concern."

The United States said it "strongly condemns this attack and calls on North Korea to halt its belligerent action."

UK Foreign Secretary William Hague urged Pyongyang to refrain from further attacks, which he described as "unprovoked."

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei told reporters that Beijing was "concerned" over the incident.

Germany's foreign minister Guido Westerwelle said the attack "threatens peace in the region,"

"I ordered (ministers) to make preparations so that we can react firmly, should any unexpected events occur," Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan said.

North Korea's only major ally, China, said it was "concerned" by the reports.

Russia called on both Koreas to refrain from the use of force.

"Russia firmly condemns any show of force...all disputes should be settled by exclusively political-diplomatic means," the Russian Foreign Ministry said in a statement.

It also urged both sides to "show restraint and not permit actions that could lead to the escalation of the military conflict on the Korean peninsula."

NORTH CLAIMS SELF-DEFENSE

However, North Korea claimed its forces had responded to a South Korean attack, the North Korean Central News Agency said.

"Despite our persistent warnings, South Korea fired dozens of shells from 1 pm local time [04:00 GMT] and we immediately retaliated with military force," the agency said.

A spokesman for South Korea's joint chief of staff said "scores of rounds" were fired by the North. South Korean military retaliated by firing some 80 artillery rounds, Yonhap said.

Tuesday's exchange of fire came amid large-scale military exercises in South Korea. The drills, involving some 70,000 troops, were launched Monday and are to last through November 30.

"Our army was carrying out military training, and there was a telegram from North Korea with a protest and questioning whether this was an attack," the spokesperson was quoted as saying by South Korea's Yonhap news agency.

He did not rule out that subsequent artillery fire from the North was a response to the drills.

TENSIONS RISE

The South Korean military is on its highest non-war alert and the Air Force has deployed fighter jets to the island.

Yonhap said Seoul was considering the evacuation of its nationals currently in North Korea.

The attack is the second incident in the tense Yellow Sea border area this year. In March, a North Korean submarine was alleged to have torpedoed a South Korean naval ship, the Cheonan, causing the loss of 46 lives. An international investigation said the North was to blame, but the reclusive regime denied involvement.

North and South Korea remain technically at war, since no peace treaty was signed following the Korean War in 1953. The Demilitarized Zone between the countries is the most heavily armed border in the world.

The latest attack comes after the revelation that the North has created a new uranium enrichment facility.

Despite the development, South Korea will not seek the return of U.S. tactical nuclear missiles over fears that the move could scupper international efforts to persuade North Korea to halt its nuclear program, the South Korean deputy defense minister said Chang Kwang-il.

MOSCOW, November 23 (RIA Novosti)

 

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